Synopses & Reviews
Intense verbal music with a jazz feeling; invention against the grain of expectation; intelligence racing among materials with the variety of a busy street—these have been the qualities of Robert Pinskys work since his first book, Sadness and Happiness (1975), celebrated for setting a new direction in American poetry. At that time, responding to a question about that book, Pinsky said: “I would like to write a poetry which could contain every kind of thing, while keeping all the excitement of poetry.”
That ambition was realized in a new way with each of his books, including the book-length personal monologue An Explanation of America; the transformed autobiography of History of My Heart; the bestselling translation The Inferno of Dante; and, most recently, the savage, inventive Gulf Music. That variety and renewal are represented in this brilliantly chosen volume.
"Since Sadness and Happiness (1975) Pinsky has rightly accumulated praise for his ambitious attempts to speak for America, traditional craft (iambic pentameters, couplet rhymes), and careful use of his own life. Pinsky's mentally ill mother, his extended family, and their urban Jewish roots inform many poems, though he ends up not so much confessional as representative, devoted to an American melting pot. This first selected in 14 years from the former U.S. poet laureate contains no new poems; it begins with recent work: a poem in the form of a prayer invokes a 'Holy One who loves blood sacrifice/ And burnt offerings, commerce and the Arts'; 'Rhyme' depicts 'all the unsteady/ Chambered voices that share it,/ Each reciting I too was here.' That sense of an American gathering extends throughout the volume, into the angry political poems of Gulf Music (2007), a reference to Hurricane Katrina, through the prose blocks of 'An Alphabet of My Dead,' and back to what may still be Pinsky's most famous poem, the book-length An Explanation of America (1979), excerpted here, whose clearly argued triads of blank verse compared the United States after Vietnam to the republic in earlier days and to imperial Rome. However well Pinsky fits a wide modern audience, he is also someone whose poems should last. (Apr.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright PWxyz LLC)
About the Author
Robert Pinskys awards include the William Carlos Williams Prize, the Italian Premio Capri, and the Manhae Prize. He served an unprecedented three terms as U.S. Poet Laureate. He teaches in the MFA Program at Boston University and is poetry editor of Slate.