My Weekend with Pinsky

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I went on a bender last weekend. It wasn’t bourbon with which I besotted myself, but poetry. With a master poet named Robert Pinsky.

Who is Robert Pinsky? Let’s just say he served an unprecedented three terms as United States poet laureate. These days he teaches in the graduate writing program at Boston University.

Pinsky also keeps a house here in Truro, and last weekend he held a rare, two-day workshop called “Sounds of Poetry” at our famous Truro Center for the Arts.

I was content to simply sit with him at the seminar table. I left again reminded of how much there is to learn in life even at my age. And how much better a poet he made me in just two days.

I’m grateful to God that among his gifts are our innate curiosity and our craving to be continually challenged.

If there is anything to regret, it is that we too often overlook the importance of poetry in our lives. Because its rhythmic musicality is fundamental to us as homo sapiens and as participants in God’s ongoing creation.

In 1926, when Henry Beston decided to spend a year alone in a tiny cottage on Cape Cod, he sought to reconnect with nature.

In his classic narrative of his experience, The Outermost House: A Year of Life On The Great Beach of Cape Cod, he describes the seasonal bird migrations, the survival of plants in the harsh dune environment, and the constant sounds of waves.

These he described as “the great rhythms of nature.”

“Poetry is as necessary to comprehension as science,” Beston wrote. “It is as impossible to live without reverence as it is without joy.”

I am fortunate to live a few miles from where Beston’s outermost house once stood. I experience daily the rhythms of earth, ocean, and sky that form the “triune unity of this coast” that Beston recognized.

Pinsky concentrates on the sounds of poetry, suggesting that saying a poem aloud rather than reading it reveals its feeling, meaning, and sound in a way that is different from printed text.

“A poem,” Pinsky says, “doesn’t convince me in the way a piece of brilliant rhetoric or a great speech might do; it gives me another kind of conviction: a conviction that this is the way to say something I feel.”

He calls song and poetry “sister arts,” and works with a jazz trio to perform what he calls PoemJazz.

For a riveting example of how he melds music and poetry, take a look at this brief video of his Samurai Song: https://www.bu.edu/artofpoetry/robert-pinsky-samurai-song/

If you’ve viewed the video, you have an idea of why Pinsky says a poem is composed, not written—like a musician tinkling the keys of a piano in search of a motif.

Then there’s this Pinsky insight: “The medium of poetry is breath.”

Breath. What the ancient Greeks called pneuma, their word for breath—and also for soul.

That’s how I spent a sublime weekend: mindful of the “triune unity” of earth, ocean, and sky . . . of the cadences of creation that are condensed in a few lines of patterned words . . . of spoken music that can enrich the soul.

Best of all, I learned to be a better composer of poetry.

Here’s how.

Last November I went to Great Beach, where Beston lived in his outermost house, to observe the rising of a rare “supermoon.”

I was summoned by science, but moved to poetry. I wrote and posted this poem:

SUCH A FUSS

Such a fuss about Ms Moon these days,

she all full of her pompous perigee syzygy self.

Good grief!

You’d think she was the sole

belle at the ball.

Mars has two, excuse me,

Fear and Panic,

and bloated Jupiter fifty-three.

Saturn cuddles sixty-two

and rings, too!

What made me yes! in awe on the Atlantic beach

where I watched her coolly

ascend the eastern sea

was the flock of flighty gulls that shamed

la bella luna

by silently passing between

sea and sky,

between her and me and

the crowd gathered

with scopes and binoculars and iThings

raised to the four-fifty-four sky,

raised in obeisance to miracle-making optics

while rouged Ms Moon went unregarded by the gulls,

save for their fleeting moonshadows,

grudgingly marking in the ancient sand

the moment.

No eyes looked down

to regard that.

 

Here is the same poem as I revised it last week according to Pinsky’s critique:

THAT NIGHT AT LONGNOOK

Such a fuss about Miss Moon tonight,

she all full of her pompous perigee syzygy self.

Excuse me, Miss! Mars has two moons, Fear and Panic.

And Jupiter? Fully fifty-three, while Saturn cossets

sixty-two round her. With rings yet!

So what makes me whisper yes!

as I observe her cool ascent?

It isn’t La Bella Luna that enchants

but a flock of tiresome gulls that transits unbidden

between sky and sea, between her and me.

Rouged Miss Moon beguiles us all, our

eyes on her with scopes and binoculars and

i-devices raised in obeisance.

She and we go unregarded by the gulls.

Their moon shadows pass over the ancient sand

to mark the moment; no eyes look down to notice that.

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(Pinsky photo courtesy of The Steven Barclay Agency)


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  • commented 2017-07-04 11:07:17 -0400
    Peter…..what a lovely and beautifully written reflection about the weekend with Robert Pinsky……it was truly special and you captured it. Hope you and the other Cape poets will continue to meet. Keep me posted!
  • commented 2017-07-01 10:00:07 -0400
    You capture the workshop and the insights we shared soulfully. I’m happy to have been in the room, and absorb Robert Pinsky’s energy and his delight in the sound of poetry. He’s contagious. I’m also happy to have met some wonderful Cape poets to continue sharing conversation with.