Congress has appointed 82-year-old M.S. Merwin to be the 17th Poet Laureate of the United States.

Merwin lives in an old pineapple plantation on the top of a sleeping volcano in Maui. He is a gardener, tending hundreds of species of endangered palm trees. He craves solitude. And he conveys his passion for quietness and nature in his lyrical poems.

He has written 30 books filled with poems composed painstakingly on small notebooks and paper napkins. He learned the craft by writing 75 lines each day and translating poems from Spanish and French.

Merwin’s words dance on the page, without commas or periods: “I came to feel that punctuation was like nailing the words onto the page. I wanted instead the movement and lightness of the spoken word.”

As a boy, Merwin wrote hymns for his father, a Presbyterian minister. Poetry is like music, he says. “It’s close to song. You have to hear it before you can understand it.”

It seems that music, plants and quiet spaces produce poetry.

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