On Living Merrily and Trusting Good Verses
The last thing a young artist should do in poetry or any other field is think about what’s in style, what’s current, what are the trends. Think instead of what you like to read, what do you admire, what you like to listen to in music.
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.
The wonderful 17th Century poet, Robert Herrick, wrote a poem entitled, To Live Merrily and to Trust to Good Verses. Easy to say, Robert Herrick; not always easy to do. But it’s a good slogan, I think.
The first half, "to live merrily," to me means, don’t put the extra demand on art that it will make you happy through recognition. Serve art for art. This is easy for me to say. The part of one that simply wants to make something good - you want to make a good work of art - you can’t stop. It’s like a child with a new toy the child likes. You cultivate that and you don’t confuse it by saying also, "I’m going to solve my absence of merriment, my life problems, in some special way through art." No. The record shows the lives of artists - Chekhov is really rare - there aren’t nice people. Art will not solve your problems. It will not enable you to live merrily. That’s one thing, to try to live well and decently.
Now let's talk about trust the good verses. Probably a lot of young people won’t know what I’m talking about, but Lawrence Welk drove Sid Caesar off television. Sid Cesar, in my opinion a great artist, was an astoundingly brilliant comedic and parodist. His television shows are probably still peak glorious moments for the medium of television. And Lawrence Welk was an utterly uninteresting, mechanical, stupid, corny band leader, whose show became very, very popular and was getting higher ratings than Sid Caesar. The historians of television tell us that Lawrence Welk drove Sid Caesar off television.
From that I conclude that to try to guide yourself by what is popular or succeeding is a fool’s errand. It’s stupid. If what you want to do is make good art, decide what’s good and try to imitate it.
The last thing a young artist should do in poetry or any other field is think about what’s in style, what’s current, what are the trends. Think instead of what you like to read, what do you admire, what you like to listen to in music. What do you like to look at in architecture? Try to make a poem that has some of those qualities.
In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.
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