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.
I live in this little village of the present, but lately I forget my neighbor’s names.
More and more, I spend my days in the city.
The great metropolis, where I can hope to glimpse great spirits as they cross the street.
Souls, durable as the cockroach and the lung fish
When I was young, I lived in a different village; we had parades, the circus, the nearby fort.
And Rabbi Gowertz[ph] invented a game called, baseball.
To reach first base, you had to change two lines of Hebrew verse correctly.
Mistakes were outs; one strike for every stammer or hesitation.
We boys were thankful for our Rabbi’s grace, his balancing the immensity of words written in letters of flame by god himself with our mere baseball.
The little things we knew.
Or do I misremember? Did we boys think there were no girls?
That baseball was the city
And that the language we were learning by rote, a little attention to meaning now and then, were small and local.
The Major Leagues, the city.
One of the boys was killed a few years later wearing a uniform thousands of miles away,
He was a stupid boy
When I was Captain, if somehow he managed to read his way to first, I never left him attempt the next two lines to stretch it to a double.
So long ago.
Sometimes I think I’ve never seen the city, that where I’ve been is just a shabby district where I persuade myself I’m at the center
Or atrocities, beheadings, mass executions, troops ordered to rape and humiliate.
The news, the psalms, the epics.
What if that’s the city?
Gowertz, he told us, means a dealer in spices. Anise and marjoram used for preserving corpses, for preserving or enhancing food and drink
The stuff of civilization, like games and verses.
The other night, I dreamed about that boy, the foolish one who died in the course of war.
He pulled his chair up so he faced the wall.
I wanted him to read from the prayer book. He didn’t answer.
He wouldn’t play the game.
Directed / Produced by
Jonathan Fowler & Elizabeth Rodd
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.