First hearing him read some thirteen years ago, at a youth conference in Wyoming, the thing about Robert Pinsky's poetry that shook me up was the way he spoke. He enunciated like no one I'd ever heard. He hit each syllable not only clearly but with dynamics. The syllables took the manner of punctuation, propelling you forward or sitting you still.
How they combined into words and phrases, construction in pursuit of meaning, put what I understood about poetry to that point in a fresh light. Line breaks, rhyme, meter, onomatopoeia, symbols, styles, they were simply supports. What mattered was what you wanted to say.
Of course, I needed more years to realize what had grabbed me. But I was grateful when I slowly caught on and glad this week when Pinsky came and read at the Folger. Salzburg pal Jess and I caught him there Tuesday. (Photo above was hers. We also ate Good Stuff burgers and discussed her new roommate, Abe Lincoln.) Pinsky read for an hour or so and then took questions. He talked with excitement about decades of collaborations with musicians and technologists. He enunciated with drive, even reading the poem I'd heard him read thirteen years ago.
What he said at his Yale reading later this week: "A poem is a work of art made out of the sounds of a language. It is not a song. It is sounds of speech approaching the conditions of a song." He spoke similarly on writing at an event with Springsteen a couple years ago. "For me, it’s an awful lot like noodling at the piano, playing with colors, except it’s syllables. I write with my voice. My voice box is my writing instrument."
At the Folger, he read another one I was hoping we'd hear, one just called "Book." Part captured a more recent hope and fear of mine:
Enchanted wood. Glyphs and characters between boards.
The reader’s dread of finishing a book, that loss of a world,
And also the reader’s dread of beginning a book, becoming
Hostage to a new world, to some spirit or spirits unknown.