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Lensic Crowd Hmms After All But One Poem
Santa Fe—The audience at Wednesday’s sold-out W.S. Merwin reading at the Lensic Theater set a new world record for hmms, breaking the previous mark set at a Merwin reading at the Napa Valley Writers Conference in 2004. Merwin, known for his short, Zen-influenced, enigmatic poems, has broken his own hmming record 56 times, dating back to a landmark 1992 College of Santa Fe reading.
Aware that a record-breaking performance was in the offing, Carl Johnson, a veteran hmmer, traveled from San Francisco to witness the feat. “I knew we were in for a good night,” a beaming Johnson offered, “when the audience hmmed after Robert Hass’s rather faltering reading of a Merwin poem during the introduction. That just never happens.”
There were several nerve-wracking minutes of delayed hmming during the first few poems that Merwin read, but by mid-reading the hmms were blossoming spontaneously in every corner of the old theater.
A sweat-drenched Merwin, recovering from the record-setting performance backstage, smiled broadly and flung his fist in the air when Hass arrived to pound fists and chest-bump the elder poet. “It was a freakin’ hmmfest out there,” Merwin said. “I had them hmming out of my hand.”
An apologetic Lydia Johnson, a staffer at the Lensic, was among the first audience members to congratulate Merwin. "That was wonderful," she said in a tiny voice. After attempting to clear her throat, she continued. "I'm sorry. I'm hoarse from hmming."
By the end of the evening, the sold-out theater audience had hmmed audibly after all but one very short poem. Audience member Jon Davis, interviewed after the show, was distraught. “I would have hmmed at the one, too. It was just so short that I didn’t realize it was over. By the time I was ready to hmm, Merwin was already onto another poem. It was an infinitely hmmable poem. It was just a timing thing. I could kick myself.”