Published on: Monday, August 10, 2015 Takoma Park Newsletter

Poet Laureate Merrill Leffler receives regional recognition

Takoma Park’s Poet Laureate, Merrill Leffler, was recently honored by the Association of Jewish Libraries, Capital Area Chapter, with the 2015 Achievement Award. AJL celebrated Leffler for his poetry and for founding in 1967 the literary magazine “Dryad,” which grew into Dryad Press.

“Merrill is the consummate ‘mensch’—wise, understated, modest, generous and yet intensely rigorous and probing,” said AJL’s Ahron Taub, who presented the award to Leffler.

“He is a Jewish humanist in the most profound sense, wrestling with text and language in a realm unfettered by dogma or limitations arbitrarily imposed. His poems are marked, not only by music, of course, but by an unusual combination of sly wit, playfulness, and empathy, in a word—humane.”

Leffler has been Takoma Park’s poet laureate since July 2011 and contributor to many literature-focused events in the city. Leffler and his wife and fellow poet Anne Slayton started the Spring for Poetry posters in 2007. He’s praised the “strong and vital” independent presses and literary publications in the DC area. He spoke about how poetry is made and what makes it distinctive. Leffler quoted William Butler Yeats: “Out of the arguments with others, we make rhetoric; out of the arguments with ourselves we make poetry.”

“In this context, I take ‘arguments’ to mean venturing out, exploring the known and the unknown, questioning what we think we know, whether in theme, subject matter, style,” Leffler said.

And he quoted from Ecclesiastes: “of making many books there is no end.”

“Books that matter — I’ll call them ‘literary books’ — stimulate the mind, they give us deep pleasures and deep insights. They often disrupt the beliefs we take for granted and don’t question; they inform us more deeply about what we know — or think we know — to teach us about the world and about ourselves,” Leffler said. “Why else are we all gathered here?”

Leffler’s most recent book of poetry, “Mark the Music,” was published in 2012. It has been described as a book in three movements that suggest different stages of life. Its themes include aging, darkness, consolation and joy.

This article appeared in the August 2015 edition of the Takoma Park Newsletter. The Takoma Park Newsletter is available for download here.