My Profund Skepticism of Success
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.
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.
From profound failure for so much of my earlier years, I defended myself against not getting ‘A’s in school and not standing out - standing out for anything, for spectacular underachievement. I hardened myself to disregard all of the attributes of success, my skepticism about the student council and the National Honor Society and getting into Harvard and getting ‘A’s. My skepticism about those things was infinite, it was just profound.
Little flakes of laurel and success have come my way. A success, like everybody else.
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. And I’m not bullshitting when I say that it’s astonishing to me that my odd ways of thinking and playing with the sounds of words has made me sort of the 47th Degree of Poobah in the world. It wasn’t to be expected and part of me is bemused by it. Though, of course, the benefits and rewards of it are not to be sneered at.
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