Essential Pleasures

Robert Pinsky Combines Poetry and Jazz at the Boston Book Festival

By The Editors on 10.20.09

The inaugural Boston Book Festival is happening this Saturday, October 24th in Copley Square. The schedule of events features an impressive roster of writers speaking throughout the day. Surprisingly though, for a city that’s been home to so many of our country’s greatest poets, poetry won’t have much of a presence at the festival. Though there is one notable exception. You won’t want to miss Former Poet Laureate (and columnist on Poems Out Loud) Robert Pinsky reading from his latest anthology, Essential Pleasures at Trinity Church at 4pm at a reading titled Poetry as Music. In classic Pinsky-style, this won’t be just any poetry reading. Here’s the event description from the Boston Book Festival:

continue reading »

A Secret Mission

By Robert Pinsky on 4.29.09

Essential Pleasures has a secret mission. As I hope I’ve indicated all month, while writing about specific poems in this space, the main idea is to provide a lot of poems that people have enjoyed reading aloud. By my editorial standards of excellence, the range is from more-than-respectable to great works of art. In this announced purpose the book means to be attractive and useful for readers in general, including experts as well as newcomers to the art. I try for a balance between the familiar and the unexpected.

I have also had a second, implicit purpose: to provide an introduction to poetry; an introduction to the art based on experience, absolutely free of classroom exercises and classroom languages (fine in their place); terminology for figures of speech and forms; technical and theoretical matters; devices and instructions.

continue reading »

Whitman Celebrates Himself

By Robert Pinsky on 4.28.09

I strongly recommend this brief video of lines from “Song of Myself” read by John Doherty, construction worker for Boston Gas.

Whitman was a devotee of opera, and in scale, tone and inclusiveness his work has operatic qualities. Also, melody, as of the consonants of lines like: “I effuse my flesh in eddies and drift it in lacy jags.”

listen to this poem »

Ben Jonson Speaks His Mind

By Robert Pinsky on 4.27.09

No one has ever written English verses sweeter to the ear than those of Ben Jonson: the way he stretches the last sentence of this poem, the speaking quality extended as though just naturally over the demanding meter, has an acrobatic grace, or the thrill of a long phrase by Charlie Parker that reaches over several bars. Writing four centuries ago, Jonson puts his words in an order that still feels a bit as if he is simply speaking his mind—all the while in the meter of “Twinkle, twinkle, little star”! To me it seems clear that William Butler Yeats studied Jonson (as we are told he did), and learned something about making lines and sentences dance.

listen to this poem »

Old Tiney. Gone, but not Forgotten.

By Robert Pinsky on 4.24.09

Cowper’s sweet, eerie poem about his pet rabbit—and about life in general—might just as well have gone into my section of “Love Poems,” or into “Odes, Complaints, and Celebrations” (being all three) or “Stories.” Like many excellent works, this poem in ballad stanza (its ultimate category within the book Essential Pleasures) straddles many categories.

listen to this poem »

No Sympathy for Lucretia Borgia

By Robert Pinsky on 4.23.09

The story is that the poet Leigh Hunt showed Landor a long, blonde strand of hair—said to be stolen from an Italian museum by Byron—of the glamorous, powerful, nefarious Lucretia Borgia. (It is tempting to think that the Italians who ran the museum were accustomed to English gentlemen stealing the purported hair several times a month, and that the museum replaced it each time from an ample supply.)

listen to this poem »

With Friends Like These…

By Robert Pinsky on 4.22.09

A famous insult, perfect in its way.

Raleigh’s technique here includes a wit-pattern, the contradiction in each of the first two lines, that the poem then abandons: the third line is kind of bland and noncommittal, seems to relax the derisory paradoxes, then the fourth line, unlike those first two rapier-stokes, is a blunt punch in the nose.

listen to this poem »

Keats Looks on the Bright Side of Death

By Robert Pinsky on 4.20.09

A numbness that pains; a happiness that is too happy; feeling half in love with death; an exile that is familiar: the conflicted feeling Keats evokes is no mere verbal paradox, but a profound reality of human consciousness: “Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird.”

The bird’s ancestors sing the same song, says Keats, all the way back to Biblical times; no hungry generations of descendants, eager to make their own songs, avid for their own consciousness, tread down the nightingale.

listen to this poem »

Of Waxen Lights and Honey Love

By Robert Pinsky on 4.17.09

Campion celebrates, with utmost relish, scenes and diversions that he also puts in their proper place. This can seem superficially a charming song about hardly anything at all; but the poem is partly about that proper place: the idea of decorum. That potentially stuffy idea of decorum is treated with energy and ebullience, an omnivorous verve extending its appetite to flirtations, poems, riddles, dance-steps, wine cups, the miniature honey-comb of lights and the massive, fantastic storm.

listen to this poem »

A Portrait of Love In Its Early Stages

By Robert Pinsky on 4.16.09

A sophisticated artist making an elegant version of naivete: lines that could be spoken by a well-attired and delicately made-up porcelain shepherd. (In fact Sidney uses a sonnet version of this poem in his pastoral narrative “Arcadia.”) The artful simplicity successfully evokes the simultaneous play-acting and sincerity that can characterize love in its early stages.

Sidney gives his young high-class shepherdess a tranquil confidence, lightened by effervescence. The deft play with whose-heart-is-whose has a perfectly equivalent bubbliness in the figures of sound, such as the rhyme on “given driven.”

listen to this poem »