Robert Pinsky is an American poet, essayist, literary critic, and translator. From 1997 – 2000, he served as Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. Pinsky is the author of nineteen books, most of which are collections of his own poetry. His published work also includes critically acclaimed translations, including a collection of poems by Czeslaw Milosz and Dante Alighieri.His honors include an American Academy of Arts and Letters award, both the William Carlos Williams Award and the Shelley Memorial prize from the Poetry Society of America, the PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry, and a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship. He is currently poetry editor of the weekly Internet magazine Slate. Pinsky has taught at both Wellesley College and the University of California, Berkeley, and currently teaches in the graduate writing program at Boston University. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Question: Can you separate politics from the poet?
Robert Pinsky: If we didn’t separate artists politics from the artist, we would lose a lot. So the Italian futurists became ordinary fashions, Ezra Pound wrote some really good things. We wrote was a lot --- had a lot more approval of stalling in most of us by us I guess it made me who would. So the first part of the question, can you separate an artist work from his politics. We do. The answer to this can you is yes. We do all the time and all the more so historically. So that Shakespeare’s ideas about Jews. Its not a political matter. Its cultural matter and there is an awful lot we would deprive ourselves if we start bringing the template over on political convictions to art. On the other hand when you are making art we are doing the art of your own time hearts and liberals nothing is forbidden to it. You can’t say this is too political or as politics in deed to ignore that aspect of life is to restrict your subject matter and off a lot. Just speaking for myself, I don’t think I have to become an expert in constitutional law or an expert in an American Foreign Policy to feel a desire to express the emotions I feel when I read the news paper and I try to do that as well as I can and then its somebody else’s job a year later or 50 years later to decide whether I did it stupidly or in a way it was moving or absorbing.
Question: Is there a way to write about this without falling into cliché?
Robert Pinsky: People love cliché. The audience will always --- there always will be an audience for cliché. Sometimes for a greater work of art not. Melville ruined his career. He was popular for White-Jacket and people wanted another White-Jacket. He probably could have written one. Probably would have become try. White-Jacket is pretty good book. It’s not Moby Dick, but he was popular. His publisher loved on. He had a leadership and he wrote this crazy book about wailing and no body could read it, no body could sell it. It was such a big flop that it wrecked him. It had a bad effect on his life. His settling was a very unsuccessful writer or he can try to do is try to do something fresh. I don’t believe there is anything that in theory somebody couldn’t write about well. There is no forbidden subject. Great comics can make anything funny. Art is on your never know when it might great ---- work is it always the pitfall of the traitor, the self important or this or that or the banal. Yes sure and in fact as in Melville’s case sometimes everybody is wrong. Usually if somebody says “none of them liked it. They didn’t get it what a big genius I was.” He probably didn’t even say that. Sometimes it’s true. We need to catch up to it. We don’t understand and the very literary critics who write about John Keats or Gerard Manly Hopkins or Melville I hope they think the equivalent to me to recognize Keats. The equivalent --- and they did that say this Gerard Manly Hopkins is something extraordinary. Equivalent people had their attention elsewhere and I think that all the time. I read poems submitted to slave or I mean editor I say “I will have to assume this is possible with Emily Dickson or Hopkins in here and I am missing it.” I may be making a mistake.
Recorded On: 3/25/08
Robert Pinsky: I think skepticism toward things like titles, good reviews, what the world calls distinctions, recognitions, can become mechanical, but it’s a good armor too.