The Palm Whisperer

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The haunting, intimate tale reflects Merwin’s deep understanding and love of the Hawaiian psyche. The New York Times called the narrative “ravishing,” while Dr. Pualani Kanahele, a revered kupuna (elder) and kumu hula (hula teacher), applauded the author’s grasp of Hawaiian character.

In 2010, Merwin became the seventeenth U.S. poet laureate. He accepted the honor and its obligatory public appearances in order to spread his favorite gospel: that humans belong to nature, not the other way around. To that end, he permanently protected the palm forest with a conservation easement and founded the Merwin Conservancy. In addition to regular tours of the forest, the Conservancy hosts the Green Room, a literary salon at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center featuring the poet’s internationally renowned friends and colleagues. Luminaries such as Terry Tempest Williams, Barry Lopez, and Michael Ondaatje have appeared on the intimate stage — a marvelous boon for the Maui community.

Two years ago, Merwin’s eyesight began to fail. He quit giving interviews. He visits the furthest reaches of the palm forest less frequently. He hasn’t stopped writing, however. He dictates poems in near-finished form to his wife and friends. Last year he published two more books, Garden Time and What Is a Garden? Prolific throughout his life, he plans to be equally generous in his passing. He and Paula determined that, when they are gone, their home will become a retreat for writers. Erickson glances up towards his boss’s shaded sanctuary and smiles. “He’s accomplished his mission,” he says. “It’s nice to be a part of it.”

On the last day of the world
I would want to plant a tree
excerpted from the poem “Place”

Engage with the Merwin Conservancy

Follow the Conservancy’s blog for a weekly poem, facts about palms, and opportunities to tour the palm forest. MerwinConservancy.org; 808-579-8876

Attend a Green Room Event

On April 7, the salon hosts Hope Jahren, professor of geobiology and author of the book Lab Girl, described by The New York Times as a “road map to the secret life of plants.” For a schedule of Green Room events, visit MerwinConservancy.org/the-green-room

Palm reader: William S. Merwin has merged his love of poetry and plants, creating The Merwin Conservancy, a palm forest and future retreat for botanists and writers. Here, potting shelves teem with new life: keiki palms from around the world, including a species that was only recently discovered.

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