The two places that I learn about poetry are my local library and Half-Price Books. For free, I can browse the poetry section and choose colorful hardcovers and well-worn paperbacks. If the book isn’t for me, it’s no loss. If it is for me, hurrah! The last stack of books that I grabbed included Robert Pinsky’s Gulf Music. While the cover initially attracted me, Pinsky’s writing is virtuosic. He has a dazzling ability to craft word music that concisely yet artfully expresses big ideas. More than once, I said, “Wow!” out loud. People on the bus didn’t know what to make of me. Poetry is a medium that I struggle with, both as a reader and writer. To read someone with such a mastery is exciting. It’s no wonder that Mr. Pinsky was National Poet Laureate from 1997 to 2000.
This collection was published in 2008. I believe Gulf Music is a reference to Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, as well as post 9/11 America, as well as the general gulf between a person and their expression. When he wasn’t busy becoming a poetic powerhouse, Pinksy found the time to earn a PhD in Philosophy. His ideas are full of intellectual nutrition. Sometimes his forms and subject matter went over my head a bit (hence 4/5 Stars), but some of his simpler poems stuck with me nonetheless. If you want to learn a little more about Pinsky, here is a link to a former student describing his college English class and what he was like as a prof in the 90s, and here is some info on his Favorite Poem Project. He wrote a book on how to read and write poetry that I will be purchasing very shortly.
Here is an excerpt from “Other Hand”, which is one of several poems about objects in the book (the one on pens is also great).
The lesser twin,
The one whose accomplishments
And privileges are unshowy: getting to touch
The tattoo on my right shoulder.
Wearing the mitt.
Comparison with his brother prevents him
From putting forth his best effort.
Yet this halt one too has felt a breast, thigh,
Clasped an ankle or most intimate
Of all, the fingers of a hand.
In the Elysian Fields, where every defect
Will be compensated and the last
Will be first, this one will lead skillfully
The right hand too will rejoice – released
From its long burden of expectation:
The yoke of dexterity finally laid to rest.