On Robert Pinsky, by Ifeanyi Menkiti : A Blog Post from the Grolier
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On Robert Pinsky, by Ifeanyi Menkiti

by Francine C. LaChance on 04/01/19

We are looking forward to our evening featuring Robert Pinsky’s book 

An Explanation of America. The political climate of the country makes it even more imperative for us to sit and reflect. The following blog post is an attempt to join these reflections. 

On Robert Pinsky

In a statement, which has been widely publicized, the poet Robert Pinsky (formerly Post Laureate of the United States) has rightly called attention that we recognize the dangers bearing down on the national soul, namely the destructive phenomenon of rancorous nativism, pitching Americans one against the other. In this “soil-based hatred,” the combatants are likely to have no soil left after they are done with their fighting. Poetry, although it is not a tract of political philosophy, still a poet cannot help but see what he sees, given the political climate of the times. For Robert Pinsky, what he sees are “matters, not of prophecy, but of observation.” One focuses on observation, not on prophecy, for prophecy propels on many fronts, and may be worth only one dime a dozen. 

With clarity of observation, ordinary folks can hopefully begin to reflect that something is not right with the national temper. America needs to be healed and the kindness to strangers is part of the healing process. At some point in this process, who knows at what juncture the familiar music of poetry will break through once more.  

For all of us, poets and citizens alike, may we then continue to cherish America. One’s hope for America is that it grow up gracefully and that it add many more years to its life. Two hundred years, give or take, in a nation’s history, is not an overly long time, but it is not short either. In the words of “America the Beautiful,” the song says: “God shed his grace on thee and crown thy good with brotherhood.” This is a different kind of magisterium, an order of ideals not beholden to the clamors of national glory. 

The songs that the nations sing, and if the nations do not sing, what is the reason for their not singing? Given that this is for us, as poets, a song-denominated universe, anyway you look at it, what is the reason for their not singing? What constrictions stand in the way, obstructing the vocables, and making the praise-singer miss the count? 

Is it possible that politics and aesthetics are somehow related in some strange and complex way? Is something perhaps missing over there, because something else is also missing over here? Might remediation in politics have other reasons why it needs to happen - - happen sooner, rather than later? 


Trustee and Director,

The Grolier Poetry Foundation 

and Forums Trust

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