“The passion to make new beginnings can shatter/The highest solitude, or living rock,” Robert Pinsky wrote in his long poem “An Explanation of America.”
Sometimes, it even brings a man to Washington. Librarian of Congress James Billington announced Thursday he had selected Pinsky as the country’s ninth poet laureate, a one-year position that brings $35,000, increased sales, a few small responsibilities, an office in the library’s attic, a staff of one, truckloads of mail from children and versifiers, and a prominent soapbox.
This is a difficult balancing act, and poets have been known to beg off. But Pinsky, speaking the other day from a New Jersey hotel room prior to a poetry reading, seemed eager to begin the position.
“It’s a responsibility and an opportunity as well as an honor,” he said. He spoke of harnessing the technology of the Internet to get poems to the people, of helping ordinary folks appreciate and accept the art.
Prose, he said, is like wading - you see your toes, a starfish, an anemone, a sharp rock. You move slowly and deliberately, knowing where you’re going. Poetry, on the other hand, “is like ice-skating. You glide and change directions fast. You cover a lot of ground, but it’s also more dangerous.”
Pinsky, 56, has written five books of verse and edits poetry for the Internet magazine Slate. He has also done a highly regarded translation of the “Inferno” by Italian poet Dante Alighieri.
Unlike the work of some modern poets, much of what Pinsky writes can be grasped at first reading. His first book, “Sadness and Happiness,” was published in 1975.
One of those poems is “First Early Mornings Together”:
“Waking up over the candy store together
We hear birds waking up below the sill
And slowly recognize ourselves, the weather,
The time, and the birds rustle there until
“Down to the street as fog and quiet lift
The pigeons from the wrinkled awning flutter
To reconnoiter, mutter, stare and shift
Pecking by ones or twos the rainbowed gutter.”