FINDING THE ISLANDS by W. S. Merwin

FINDING THE ISLANDS

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

Merwin's new collection is somewhat startling. The poems here at first seem to be merely archipelagos of haiku, many of them nature jottings reminiscent of Gilbert White's journals: ""Early I saw/ where the sun comes from/ here."" The second half, however, is devoted to oddly unresonant love poetry: ""long ago it was raining and we stepped/ over the burned mountain stones/ and kissed in a cloud."" And since Merwin is an extremely sophisticated writer, it is difficult to read such three-line trickles simply as squibs. (Robert Creeley's Pieces was misunderstood along such lines some years ago.) Eventually, then, it seems that Merwin is using this poetry as an exercise (self-corrective?) in directedness. Whether the subject is Hawaii, the Rockies, or a train journey, experience is severely boiled down, at its best into small sharp hooks (""Waking/ hanging upward into the rushing summer/ calling"") or into hypostasized perception: ""Everything is/ the answer/ too fast."" And the more familiar Merwin--spooky, echoing--is only occasionally evident: ""I hear your bare step on the bare floor/ when I hold your dark/ feet in my hands/ . . . / the earth is bleeding into the sea far out/ we look away/ one side of the heart is dark."" So, finally: a puzzling book, demanding of its reader much (probably too much) initial literary sympathy.

Pub Date: Nov. 30th, 1982
Publisher: North Point