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: What is the Favorite Poem Project?
Robert Pinsky: That is one of the main ideas behind the favorite poem project that concept that the poem finds its combination in the audience’s body and that’s an important principle I think in a democracy because the dignity of the individual is reflected in fact that the medium is on a human scale. It’s on an individual scale. It’s not a mass scale. It’s on the scale of one person’s voice saying the poem. That’s related to the other reason I undertook the project. There is a kind of glib, often reactionary, attitude that all Americans are jerks, They're yahoos. They don’t like art. They don’t like poetry. They only like their cars, their expensive clothes, and their electronic equipment and they're jusy glutinous dopes. Well now I have letters from many many thousands of Americans saying why they love poem by (inaudible), why they love poem by insurance salesman who loves an Ashbery poem. This African American woman in Washington who loves this poem by Alexander Polk reads in your translation from the Russian. Stereotypes in general, and the stereotype of Americans in particular, as though some how there have been obvious or the Russians are superior to us because they have cultures in which poetry has a settled place. Then inferior it’s not necessarily superior. We are still making up a lot of our cultures we go along. So there is that if I dare use the word patriotic aspect of the favorite poem project as well.
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.