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.