Underrated Poetry, Overrated Poetry, Timeless Poetry

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.

  • Transcript


Topic: Underrated Poetry

Robert Pinsky: People should read Johnson more. I don't know about the ratings. I love Landor. A lot of people don't read Landor. When I did the thing the Jazz musician I did Landor great two line poem. On love, on grief, on everything human thing, time sprinkles Lethe Water with his wing that a wing can sprinkle as well as fly On love, on grief, on water with his wing He is telling you to put your teeth on your lip three times. He is probably not even thinking about, but it happens on love, on grief, on every human thing, time sprinkles Lethes water with his wing and in the second line doing water with his wing. It's really great writing. As small as a poem could be. Yeah that's a very very moving poem.

Topic: Overrated Poetry

Robert Pinsky: I think that the young poets I mean overrate all their contemporaries and everybody alive. I feel like I am representing some old idea of the art when I recite Johnson and Landor to you.  I mean quite gifted poets who really --- if you have heard about older poetry they will say “oh you mean like [inaudible]Decaron and Mary Ann Moore, William Carlos Williams the whole history of the thing so I think that the present is overrated always. Certainly it is at the moment.  Because it's evanescent. It's not going to last that long. Elizabeth Bishop is already pretty much outlasted Vaughn Monroe. I bet a young person like you then can I do with one row was. At one time at American popular culture the two most important categories of entertainer, crooner and band leader. Those are the two things to be crooner or band leader. One person was both, very prominent as both. His name was Vaughn Monroe. He was born in the same year as Elizabeth Bishop and for a good part of their lives if asked anybody who is more famous Vaughn Monroe or Elizabeth Bishop, it's Monroe for sure. I dare say that right at the second within a few miles of us. There are many hundreds of people are thinking about Elizabeth Bishop and probably you and I are the only to think about Vaughn Monroe and you don't know diddly about them.

Question: What does time select for?

Robert Pinsky: It's very hard to say what makes anything any human being does survive. What did I get from grandparents and my great grandparents? What are my kid's grandparents going to know about me or care about that me and my generation have done. Most guesses it that are at least a little bit off often they are terrifically off and yet as an animal as a species for entirely dependent and things were transmitted from generation to generation. The technology that you and I are using right now is part of the human need to pass things on beyond anyone lifetime. We develop song and poetry and dance and religion and story telling and a whole host of things to keep things going. What are the best marriage customs? What are the best burial customs? What should you eat when? All of this. The animal is dependent upon. The animal is a very ineffective animal except for that ability to remember longer than its own life time and yet to predict what to use in internet world? What the content will be? Very mysterious and then we use these words like think and immediately that we got from the dead and only rarely do we begin to understand even little about their insides and their history. That's life.

Recorded On: 3/25/08