...Not the kind of wheel you fall asleep at...

The Day I Sorta Liked Robert Pinsky

I have an age-old grudge with Robert Pinsky. Not for any reason solely specific to him (I actually always admired him a wee bit for instigating the "Favorite Poem Project" which is a beautiful and admirable thing). Moreso in a generalized kinda way that is shared with most (if not all) of the recent poet laureates. His poetry bores me, as a general rule. And I just think putting a crown on a poet's head for being "the" poet of the year is kinda silly, especially since it usually moreso crowns someone whose poetry is whitewashed enough to be palatable for general consumption by the population. Edginess and uniqueness usually don't play too big a part here.

Needless to say, I was a bit surprised when I actually found my heart warming up to Robert Pinsky during his introduction to his poetry reading this past Thursday at JCU. George Bilgere gave him a lengthy introduction, rattling off many of the awards he's collected over the years. But when he got up on stage, he spoke for a few minutes about how the awards really mean nothing (undercutting his own poet laureateship very nicely), that the true laurel around a poet's neck is not when critics and scholars and whatnot deem his poems "amazing works" but when some regular old Joe Shmoe connects with it in a way that makes his heart blossom. A bit cheesey, yes, but also very modest and insightful (and a slight bit edgy for a poet laureate).

As a general rule, Pinsky's poetry doesn't do a thing for me. I find it snoozable and dull, in much the same way that I find most of Billy Collin's stuff too. I think both of them are RIDICULOUSLY overhyped. However, I must admit that I got the heebeejeebees during one Pinsky poem Thursday night, "Shirt," particularly during this passage:

The infamous blaze

At the Triangle Factory in nineteen-eleven.
One hundred and forty-six died in the flames
On the ninth floor, no hydrants, no fire escapes--

The witness in a building across the street
Who watched how a young man helped a girl to step
Up to the windowsill, then held her out

Away from the masonry wall and let her drop.
And then another. As if he were helping them up
To enter a streetcar, and not eternity.

A third before he dropped her put her arms
Around his neck and kissed him. Then he held
Her into space, and dropped her. Almost at once

He stepped up to the sill himself, his jacket flared
And fluttered up from his shirt as he came down,
Air filling up the legs of his gray trousers--

Like Hart Crane's Bedlamite, "shrill shirt ballooning."

* * * *

I was also intrigued by his discussion of a work of art as "an event," that every time a person sits down and reads a poem or novel or whatever, it is an event and occurrence solely its own, that the poem becomes new again. Interesting, I thought. I like this idea--that the writer has a certain holiness, but that the reader is the one who breathes life into a poem again.

But then he started to talk too much, enjoying his voice and his musings a bit more than I woulda liked, swinging back and forth leisurely in the hammock of his own wit. And then I remembered why I never was a big fan.

But for a minute or two (and the feeling still nests in my chest a bit), I kinda dug him.

"Untrusting I court you. Wavering
I seek your face, I read
That Crusoe's knife
Reeked of you, that to defile you
The soldier makes the rabbi spit on the torah."



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