Monday, February 9, 2009

Poetic Champions Compose

Last week I attended a reading by three-time Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky at the Art Institute of Chicago. I must say that I am a total rookie when it comes to poetry. It takes all of my attention and energy to even read a poem, let alone understand one.

If you think reading poems is difficult, imagine listening to them while trying to retain even an ounce of coherence. Pinsky however did not seem concerned with whether the audience correctly decoded the meaning of his words. On the contrary, Pinsky argues, “Poetry does not begin with understanding, but with attraction- like love or hunger for food.” He not only read us his poems, but taught us to listen, arguing that the medium of real poetry is ultimately, and simply, breath.

Playing by his own rules, I fell in love with this very short poem entitled “ABC” in which he uses, in order, every letter of the alphabet:

His delivery is earnest yet playful, immediately compelling while not stifling the imagination. I cannot say much more than that without overstepping my bounds as a self-proclaimed poetry weakling.

During Q&A I wanted to ask him about his politics. I hoped to catch a glimpse of some radical new vision for society or whatever. However, when asked about such things, he humbly commented that he is not an expert on politics and won’t use his position to pretend that he is one; his aim is to master the English language.

In Robert Pinsky I found a man full of depth, passion, and humility in a field of literature that has always pushed me away with its pretense and inaccessibility. I am grateful to have seen him and encourage you to check out his Favorite Poem Project, which landed him the position of Poet Laureate for three years straight.


Adam said...

Great to read, Dave. I love reading about your exposure to new channels of artistic expression. You have such thoughtful reflections.

Also: embedding YouTube videos was totally my thing

AC said...

Agreed with Adam (as per usual). Two questions: 1) Have you had the chance to check out any of the informal open mic/spoken word events around Chicago or did you have the chance to do so while in D.C.? 2) Really now, who isn't a poetry rookie?

Tim DeMay said...

I've always found the intersection, or lack thereof, between poetry and politics pretty fascinating. I attended a Robert Haas reading two years ago, and though his poems were nice, he used the Q&A time to speak on politics (his poems mentioned barely a lick of the political climate).

Pinsky, on the other hand, recently wrote an entire book, Gulf Music, that contains some of the most political poetry I have read (and it's really, really good).

One of the questions in this area is the practical one of if poets should speak on politics. Politics, pop culture, etc - these are necessarily bound to a specific time where many poets and poems at least reach toward more universal sentiments - whether rightly or wrongly.

Additionally, the moral question of if poets can speak on politics is present: are they capable? Is this a misuse of a Poet Laureate's, for example, position?

Personally, I think the last question is ridiculous - of course poets have authority enough to write politically, and in fact I think poetry is a good medium for it. The second question gets a bit more aesthetic, but I tend to think poets like Pinsky that force us to think about the world around us Right Now are invaluable as Socratic pests, forcing us to question assumptions.

Still, very interesting, and probably bespeaking the humility you mention of Pinsky's, that he avoided speaking about politics when he actually Wrote a political book of poems.

Thanks for the post Dave.