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: When does the specific become universal?
Robert Pinsky: Anything can become universal. Any moment any person’s idea at any one moment, any artifact, if you could understand it well enough would be a portal into the whole rest of the universe. I think this conviction in me I can associate it was probably already there on the old channel 13 in New Jersey there used to be a show when I was little called "What In the World?" and it was three or four people sitting in a studio. The set consisted of the chairs that was sitting on a kind of cocktail table and when of them might be an artist historian, one might be an anthropologist, one might be a museum curator and they are sitting there and there is a host and somebody brings in a thing. It might look like a ladle made out of bar or it might look like little statuette, might look like a model ---- modern pestle, but rattle or something and then these people they don’t necessarily know what it is. They know how to bullshit about it and one of them says these are --- these tools they show up their pre-Columbian ones. They are also ones in Samaria. It’s basically a tool for winnowing grain and I would say this one because of the material I would say it’s probably pre-Columbian rather than ---- but sometimes they are modern ones like that. The other guy says “no I think this is 19th century or early 20th century thing.” I have seen a lot of them a lot of south west American Indians use these. “oh I thought it ---- to me it still looks American.” They know how to yak about it. This thing has come as though out of the sky and they know things and that thing is a door way into all of this history and all these knowledge that they know. Well we can do that with this molded glass and why does so many seem to come from France almost everything comes from Asia. Well there probably is blah blah. If you know water …So it’s not that there is a quality in the object, so the object is a door way. Every object has a history. It has a past that’s a social context. It probably has a political meaning who got paid how much to bring the glass into this building and for ever it was made and how the materials get to warehouse and made. We will never know, but the more you look into it the more interesting it gets. That’s why the guy with a Polish name can write a bestseller about pencils.
Question: How do you find the right physical image for an emotion?
Robert Pinsky: I don’t know if one does find an image. I don’t know if its like making a collage and Picasso says it was part of the newspaper at that go will here. I never was a choreographer or a dancer, but I assume you start trying something you just do things with your body and then you get a hint. Something feels interesting to, it’s expressive or it’s complicated in way that makes you more further into it. You get into a place where there are no rules. You have hunches. You get feelings and it’s related to a material. I can remember during that period when I went back to the horn, Berkley jazz player [inaudible] gave me a few lessons and we got it in for talking about the notes say we would have a Sunny Roland’s course to bare origin or something. Somebody had transcribed exactly the notes, his play and we were talking about which notes were right inside the triad cord right inside the scale of the key of the moment and which notes were kind of far out. He is playing flat 13 or sharp 9 or flat 9 and have these discussions about that and one time there is this one note and Steve talked about it and I asked a few questions about it and he said sometimes your note just note ----- just feels right and I think that’s a big part of the process at making art is that you learn principles and structures and roles and you think consciously in order to get to the point we don’t have to think. I am sure there are analogies in sports is like the actor memorizes the lines so well. When she is saying the lines, she doesn't think about them. Just think about the emotion and that’s where you are trying to get.
Recorded On: 3/25/08