The laureate of the first edition of the award - named for one of Poland's prized poets - is among the important contemporary poets in the U.S. today.
W.S. Merwin, photo by Mark Hanauer, courtesy of fundacjaherberta.com
The laureate of the first edition of the award - named for one of Poland's most prized poets - is among the important contemporary poets in the U.S. The Zbigniew Herbert Foundation announced the verdict on the 11th of March at Teatr Polski in Warsaw
"There’s a flame in me that thinks…" wrote Zbigniew Herbert in his poem Napis / Inscription. Katarzyna Herbert, the poet’s widow, said "That combination of passion and involvement, combined with disciplined thinking and clarity of expression, so characteristic of his creativity, has a universal and timeless appeal, which is why we recall it today, in the 21st century". The Zbigniew Herbert International Literary Award underlines the cultural input - especially of 20th-century Polish poetry - in the development of world literature.
The laureate of the 2013 edition was selected by a jury that included poets, essayists, translators and publishers: Lidiya Dimkovska (Macedonia/Slovenia), Edward Hirsch (USA), Wolfgang Matz (Germany), Jarosław Mikołajewski (Poland), Agneta Pleijel (Sweden), Jaume Vallcorba Plana (Spain), and Tomas Venclova (Lituania/USA). Literary critic and jury secretary Andrzej Franaszek revealed that the nominees came from seven countries spanning three continents "representing very different artistic traditions, and included poets who had already been recognised with some of the most significant awards, as well as those on the threshold of an international career". Franaszek said the choice was centred on two main factors beyond Merwin’s outstanding merit as one of America's important contemporary poets and a gifted translator.
His long time devotion to America’s socially-engaged movements that propagated democratic values, as well as - and perhaps most importantly - the proximity of his poetic diction to the ideals that Herbert strived towards himself: clarity, balance, artistic discipline and an appreciation of the reader.
Upon hearing the news if his win, Merwin expressed his great fondness for the Polish patron of the award:
I adored Zbigniew Herbert as a friend and as a poet ever since the moment when in 1968 he arrived in New York, and I met him during a poetry reading session. I literally fell in love with the Selected Poems, a collection of his poetry that had then come out in English, and I still value this book and keep it at hand. I consider not only the entirety of Herbert’s poems to be a great work, but also admire his essays. I believe that he still has not been recognised enough as one of the greatest poets of the 20th century. I am deeply moved by receiving a prize that bears his name
The U.S. writer, poet and literary critic Edward Hirsch presided over the jury and called Merwin "one of the greates poets of the 20th century" and a "contemporary Thoreau". He went on to describe him as
a writer of a very clear spiritual profile and an intellectual and moral integrity, which encompasses his work as well as his life. For over six decades, he casts Cassandric prophesies for us about the future of our planet. He seems a very contemporary embodiment of a prophet, an augur of antiquity, or a shaman, his poetry is saturated with images of spiritual search and pilgrimage which give it the character of a layman’s prayer. He is also the most international among American poets, deeply influenced by culture of Provence and the troubadoures, although the source of his creativity - much like that of Zbigniew Herbert - is classic and contemporary at the same time.
For an interview with the poet conducted for the Academy of Achievement, please see: www.achievement.org
William Stanley Merwin (born 1937) is an American poet credited with over fifty books of poetry, translation and prose. W.S. Merwin has translated major works of poetry into English, most notably the works of Osip Mandelstam and Pablo Neruda, as well as the medieval epic The Song of Roland and The Purgatory from Dante’s Divine Comedy. The son of a Presbyterian minister, Merwin was preoccupied with poetry and the magic of words from an early age and had began writing hymns for his father's church at age five. During the anti-war movement of th e1960s, Merwin's unique craft was thematically characterized by indirect, unpunctuated narration. In the 1980s and 1990s, Merwin's writing influence derived from his interest in Buddhist philosophy and deep ecology. Residing in Hawaii, he writes prolifically and is dedicated to the restoration of the islands' rain forests.
Merwin has received honours including the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry (in 1971 and 2009) and the Tanning Prize, one of the highest honors bestowed by the Academy of American Poets, as well as the Golden Wreath of the Struga Poetry Evenings. The Library of Congress selected him to serve as the nation's 17th Poet Laureate in 2010. Since his appointment, Merwin's poems have come to play a distinct role in the public life of the U.S. When nine people were killed and 13 wounded during the attempted assasination of U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords in January 2011, W.S. Merwin's poem "To the New Year" was read aloud as the closing words of a nationally televised memorial service.
W. S. Merwin continues to live on Maui with his wife Paula. He maintains a disciplined writing schedule, while devoting the rest of his energy to the preservation of Hawaii's environment and the restoration of the rain forest around his home.
The Zbigniew Herbert Foundation was established in 2010 at the behest of Katarzyna Herbert, the poet’s widow. The Foundation’s Mission is to preserve and disseminate Zbigniew Herbert’s creative legacy, as an integral part of the literary and cultural heritage of Poland, Europe and the world. The award is given annually in the field of poetry, for the entirety of a candidate’s creative output. The Foundation Board can also decide to give Awards in the additional categories of essays, translation and editing.
In Modlitwa Pana Cogito – Podróżnika / Prayer of the Traveller Mr. Cogito Herbert’s poetic hero asked God, in what is doubtlessly also the author’s plea, to enable him to understand "other people, other languages, other suffering", explains Maria Dzieduszycka, Executive Director of the Zbigniew Herbert Foundation, the award organiser. "We want to single out and promote living authors, who apply artistic mastery and thereby strive to achieve exactly such an understanding. Whose works bring their readers, as much a clear appreciation of the pain of the human condition, as of everlasting hope."
What makes this award unique amongst other Polish poetry awards is its wide international reach, guaranteed by a jury composed of eminent world authors and poetry experts.
The official award ceremony is scheduled to take place on the 3rd of June 2013, at the Teatr Polski in Warsaw. The award consists of a statuette and a cheque for $50,000. The International Zbigniew Herbert Award is sponsored by PKN ORLEN. The strategic sponsor of the Zbigniew Herbert Foundation is the PGE Polska Grupa Energetyczna S.A. The Zbigniew Herbert Award project benefits from the support of the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage and its partners include the Adam Mickiewicz Institute, the National Library and the Arnold Szyfman Teatr Polski.
Paulina Schlosser, source: press release, achievement.org, www.fundacjaherberta.com