Pinsky, the poet


Pinsky did not talk -- and he certainly did not write -- like any ordinary truck driver. He thought about what he said and crafted out his poetry. He was a soundman of language for which he was not unabashedly proud. He bolding proclaimed his ability to put great sounds together "as well as anyone."


Part of my inability to use poetry effectively revolves around this point. The public mistakenly believes a poet's main interest is meaning, when often such people seek music instead. Music combined with meaning made Shakespeare great. But music alone gave Dylan Thomas significance as well.


While Pinsky's poetry attempts to strike a balance between meaning and music, his poems unmistakably fall on the side of word play, with each poem a production in sound to which listeners must attune or miss the point.


Pinsky's somewhat anti-war poem read for the first time during the Saturday night performance in the concert tent and then again during his fuller session on Sunday afternoon fell somewhat short of the building cadences typical of protest rhetoric like Amiri Baraka's.


Pinsky's poem seemed to echo a more personal conflict, trying to define the struggle that went on inside him.  No easy essay definitions working in this piece, just music full of clashing sounds, word conflicts reflecting emotional conflicts.


This sense of a personal indefinable struggle also appeared in the poem he called 9/11, a work commissioned by the Washington Post -- where he takes on the persona of the American people, looking into a mirror to define concepts like heroism and culture.


He had not meant to read the poem during a session on craft, but like any true showman could not resist the urge to perform -- the poem's bitter-sweet tone rising like smoke under the flaps of the tent and over the slow moving water of the canal -- to stir in us the same unanswered emotional questions raised by the collapse of the two towers a year earlier.


Although a professor at Boston University -- who lives near his place of employment -- Pinsky grew up in New Jersey, and his latest book, "Jersey Rains," recalls this same moody music of place -- as if he needed to evoke a feeling rather than create a documentary. Each poem shapes the emotion of a time and place rather than the actuality of a historic remembrance.


For these reasons I was moved by his poetry without fully comprehending how he managed to manipulate me. He did not seem to use the routine poetic tricks, no literary rabbits out of top hats. Oddly enough, his poetry might well have disappointed someone looking for a more direct route to tears or outrage.


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