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.
Topic: The Guantanamo Poems
Robert Pinsky: I did not collect the poems written at Guantanamo. I had relatively little to do with that book. That book was collected largely by attorneys who had volunteered at that time to work with people, who were detained often with minimal ---- amazingly minimal legal process. People who were detained at Guantanamo, and I would assume with that, knowing very little about it. They are just tremendous range of people, a range culturally, a range of --- but I am sure ranges of people who are tremendously guilty of many things and people who are innocent of many many things. The editor at the press that was about to publish that book originally talked to me about writing an introduction and they sent me the manuscript and I tried conscientiously to read the poems and I hope I correctly recognize my own adequacy. I was not conveyed to provide an introduction to these poems. You would have to ----at the minimum you would have to know something about Arabic poetry, you would have to know little bit about these cultures and they come from cultures in which amateur poetries are very important component. For me with amateur poetry in this country, I have taught adult classes I have taught in prisons. I don’t say amateur with a sneer, in many ways it’s possible to idolize the country in which there is a lot of amateur poetry. It might be good for professionals like me, but I felt inadequate to write in the introduction and at the same time I felt strongly about the abuses of liberties and that military people were shocked. People of military --- legal military people were both and what was happening there and these guys were just in a tremendous fix to pick their end. They have been put in by the government of my country. I didn’t want to just say , “oh I am so sorry. This is not my field.” So I tried to write a blurb that would at least put my name in the book and say this is an urgent book for us to be aware of. We should think about these people. They shouldn’t just be sealed away in a part we are releasing from a government that we don’t recognize as a part of Cuba. If you have read that in vicinity or hiatus I can’t figure these you would say, “I can’t figure these people I don’t know what’s going on here.” anyway there they are and this part of Cuba that we release from this government. We refuse that if we have anything to do with and we must adjust ---- forget about them. They need to be thought about and I was speaking ----- because I had been appealed to and very aware that my gifts and knowledge, whatever they are as a poet, would not terrifically tremain to the contents of that book.
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.