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Democracy, Culture and the Voice of Poetry (The University Center for Human Values Series) [Kindle Edition]

Robert Pinsky
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)

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Book Description

The place of poetry in modern democracy is no place, according to conventional wisdom. The poet, we hear, is a casualty of mass entertainment and prosaic public culture, banished to the artistic sidelines to compose variations on insipid themes for a dwindling audience. Robert Pinsky, however, argues that this gloomy diagnosis is as wrongheaded as it is familiar. Pinsky, whose remarkable career as a poet itself undermines the view, writes that to portray poetry and democracy as enemies is to radically misconstrue both. The voice of poetry, he shows, resonates with profound themes at the very heart of democratic culture.

There is no one in America better to write on this topic. One of the country's most accomplished poets, Robert Pinsky served an unprecedented two terms as America's Poet Laureate (1997-2000) and led the immensely popular multimedia Favorite Poem Project, which invited Americans to submit and read aloud their favorite poems. Pinsky draws on his experiences and on characteristically sharp and elegant observations of individual poems to argue that expecting poetry to compete with show business is to mistake its greatest democratic strength--its intimate, human scale--as a weakness.

As an expression of individual voice, a poem implicitly allies itself with ideas about individual dignity that are democracy's bedrock, far more than is mass participation. Yet poems also summon up communal life.. Even the most inward-looking work imagines a reader. And in their rhythms and cadences poems carry in their very bones the illusion and dynamic of call and response. Poetry, Pinsky writes, cannot help but mediate between the inner consciousness of the individual reader and the outer world of other people. As part of the entertainment industry, he concludes, poetry will always be small and overlooked. As an art--and one that is inescapably democratic--it is massive and fundamental.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Three-term U.S. poet laureate Robert Pinsky delivered the Tanner Lecture on Human Values at Princeton University last April, reprinted here as Democracy, Culture, and the Voice of Poetry. The nine short chapters (including "Culture," "Vocality" and "The Narcissistic and the Personal") of this large-print, 4" 7" book follow "the voice of poetry emphasizing its literal and actual `voice' within the culture of American democracy." Culture is the operative word here, and Pinsky begins etymologically with the word's "old agricultural and biological connotations," and arcs through de Tocqueville, Frost's "Home Burial" and poems by Stevens, Williams and Bishop in pursuit of its varying expressions and "invocations" of social life. He ends with an extended and illuminating discussion of the Favorite Poem Project Pinsky undertook during his laureateship, whereby any American reader of poetry was invited to send in their favorite poem and describe its significance to them.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

In a lean volume organized into nine chapters, celebrated American poet, teacher, and past poet laureate Pinsky offers general musings about culture, memory, and the democratic impulses and technologies that either frame or brush up against poetry. Pinsky argues forcefully that poetry has not been rendered obsolete by globalization, commercialization, and technological advance; instead, poetry is more necessary than ever, as it gives voice to the individual. Pinsky points to the success of the Favorite Poem Project, which he designed and embarked on as poet laureate, as evidence that poetry still has meaning in our culture. This congenial but somewhat sketchy work is recommended for those interested in Pinsky and his undertakings; to reach further into the notion that poetry is intrinsically a social medium, one might turn instead to the Nobel acceptance speeches of Derek Walcott and Seamus Heaney, found in Antilles and Crediting Poetry, respectively.
Scott Hightower, Fordham Univ., New York
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • File Size: 267 KB
  • Print Length: 112 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (April 11, 2009)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B002WJM5CS
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,216,385 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great short read October 4, 2002
By A Customer
Short, punchy, and nicely designed. Pinsky doesn't waste words. If you want to read a modern manifesto in defence of poetry, this is it. It's easy to dump on Pinsky because he's in the public eye so much, but this at least shows he's there because he has a brain. And who can complain about a poet being a star?
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A century or two without poetry? October 13, 2008
In this elegant, clear and concise essay Pinsky explains why modern poetry is generally ignored in America; as a poet, he faults society instead of the poets.

The poetry he praises is a "peculiar blend of ballad and tragedy, meditation and gossip" which resists "any anticipation to make American poetry something that goes down easily." He praises 'Eros Turannos' by Edwin Robinson, a 1911 poem describing the empty feelings of a woman in a bleak marriage; he condemns 'Chicago' by Carl Sandburg in 1916 which fails "to equal 'Eros Turannos' in emotion, in formal penetration or invention."

Presumably, on this basis, a man can know and express the innermost feelings of a woman who knows how "all her doubts of what he says/Are dimmed with what she knows of days --/". Yet, Sandburg is deemed incapable of expressing the dynamism of Chicago which is still "Laughing the stormy, husky, brawling laughter of Youth, half-naked, sweating, proud to be Hog Butcher ...."

If you agree poetry is articulate tragedy in a few words, you'll love this essay which demolishes everything but sorrow, despair and grief. Pinsky is an astute thinker, scholar and writer who illustrates his theme with references from Alexis de Tocqueville to Rabindranath Tagore.

If you want reality, try Robert Service and 'The Cremation of Sam McGee' from 1907, or John Gillespie Magee Jr. and 'High Flight' from 1941, or Lt. Col. Robert McCrae and 'In Flanders Fields' from 1918. Most definitely read Carl Sandburg and 'Chicago' again or even for the first time.

Obviously, my opinion is an "equatorial opposite" to Pinsky; a contrast between a dynamic hot, sweaty, messy mirth to that of Pinsky's pure cold crystal clear gloom.
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5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Heat of Middle Water December 30, 2002
Sober, judicious, temperate, suave, Pinsky considers poetry's place in our high-tech democracy with all the passion of a required civics course. Nary an insight will trouble anyone's sleep in NPR, MacNeill/Lehrer America, and that's a shame, because poetry at its best is a whole lot hotter than that. Pinsky's a deft explainer and he keeps his good-natured balance in the midst of a very fragmented field. But I think those qualities mitigate against the kind of fire we need to shake poetry loose from the warm academic middle, whose virtues and limitations Pinksy embodies in every line of his prose.
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