This week: W. S. Merwin, Tintoretto, Mark Markham & more from the world of culture.
Poetry: Garden Time, by W. S. Merwin (Copper Canyon Press): W. S. Merwin, the seventeenth United States Poet Laureate, died on Friday at the age of ninety-one. Coming into his own as a writer in the 1950s, Merwin was close with Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, he tutored the son of Robert Graves while living in Majorca, and he later became friendly with Robert Lowell, who convinced the younger writer to focus exclusively on poetry. A committed pacifist and practicing Buddhist, in the 1960s and ’70s Merwin became increasingly political and turned to abstraction in his poetry, all but eschewing punctuation in his verse (for which William Logan castigated him in a 1996 Verse chronicle). But Merwin was an undeniable virtuoso of language, and in addition to his own poetry he published more than twenty works of translation, by authors as diverse as Dante, Euripides, Muso Soseki, and Sanskrit love poets. John J. Miller favorably reviewed his 2002 translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in these pages, which brought a contemporary lyricism and readability to that famously mysterious Middle English work. His final collection, Garden Time, was published in 2016 by Copper Canyon Press.—AS
“Caritas Concert: My Songs Without Words,” at the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola (March 21): “My Songs Without Words,” the pianist Mark Markham’s Thursday performance at the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola in Manhattan, is also a concert without a program. Markham, a pianist known for the breadth of his repertoire, will perform twelve pieces by twelve different composers—from Bach to Brahms to Bartók—in the first half. Then, after intermission, a “Choose Your Own Concert” adventure: Markham will improvise on jazz and pop selections chosen by an audience vote during the pre-concert wine and hors d’ouevre reception. As part of the “Caritas” series at St. Ignatius Loyola, all proceeds will go to the New York–based charity Sant’Egidio. —HN
“Landmark Lecture: Pattern Books and Nineteenth-century American Building,” at the General Society Library (March 19): Batty Langley, the great eighteenth-century English architectural pattern book author, declared in his City and Country Builder’s and Workman’s Treasury of Designs (1741) that “the study of architecture is really delightful in all its process; its practice is evidently of the greatest importance to artificers in general; and its rules so easy, as to be acquired at leisure times, when the business of days is over, by way of diversion.” He may have understated the difficulty in good building, but budding architects could have done worse than to consult Langley’s pattern book, which included “upwards of four hundred grand designs, neatly engraved on one hundred and eighty-six copper plates.” And many did, including George Washington, whose Mount Vernon cribbed a Venetian window from plate fifty-one. The use of pattern books grew in nineteenth-century America, providing builders with ready-made designs for the increasing number of houses required by a growing population. On Tuesday, Janet W. Foster, an architectural historian and preservation consultant, will speak on the role of pattern books in nineteenth-century New York architecture at the General Society Library. —BR
From the archive: “John Crowe Ransom: Tennessee’s major minor poet,” by Richard Tillinghast (February 1997): On the poet and his work.
From the current issue:“Nathan Glazer, 1923–2019,” by Fred Siegel. A remembrance of the sociologist.