Robert Pinsky

What Are Your Favorite Words?

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Mixing Latinate and Anglo-Saxon words is a delightful sensation, like mixing smooth and crunchy.

Robert Pinsky

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.


Robert Pinsky: I tend to like combinations of Latinate word and Anglo-Saxon words, like smooth and crunchy, as Wallace Stevens says: tipped by the consummation of the swallow's wings. So something like in a radical blaze or irritable edge. I like that contrast. Well the word "thing" is a very big factor in my new book. I tend to use the dictionary to look up words I know the meaning of, and thing was originally a verb, thing on it means to meet, to discuss, to argue, to be in accord, so thing on --- I think it's in Iceland that the parliament building is called the Thingsted, the place where you thing, and the history of the word as I get it is that thing the noun was the issue, the matter, discussed in accord or a parliament or agreement, and from being the issue or the matter discussed, it gradually became a physical thing. So that when we say he has a thing about her or there is a thing going on here we are actually harking back to the origin of the word. Also I like the history of "immediately." It’s related to the news media. Everything that’s medium is in between, the medium of film, the medium of the internet, the medium of TV. Each of those media comes between the audience and an event or reality, something is either hot or cold, its medium; to do it immediately means nothing in between, do it right away, and that’s an example of -- it should be quite obvious, but one will say the word 1000 times before realizing that it's made of other words.  It’s a blessing and a curse to think about every word that you say. Its interesting, those are both dramatic. Blessing and curse because they had to do with magic. It’s more beautiful -- it’s like life and happy. They are basic. Foot. Pedestrian is more legal when it comes in the Latin: I was on foot. I was a pedestrian.


Recorded On: 3/25/08

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