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Democracy, Culture and the Voice of Poetry: (The University Center for Human Values Series) Paperback – March 6, 2005

6 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0691122632 ISBN-10: 0691122636

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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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Series: The University Center for Human Values Series
  • Paperback: 112 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (March 6, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691122636
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691122632
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.3 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,705,550 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 4, 2002
Format: Hardcover
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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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Theodore A. Rushton on October 13, 2008
Format: Paperback
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 By Martin H. Dickinson on October 10, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Poetry is not aristocratic in America--but rather personal and cultural at the same time. Pinsky jumps right into the discussion of culture and the so called "culture wars," and shows us all the many ways in which our poetry is a public expression of deep knowing and the inner voice. His takeoff point is Alexis de Tocqueville's description of American life as lacking in poetic quality in Democracy in America. Americans, Tocqueville maintains, will focus not on the heroic actions of aristocratic poetry, but on the natural features of the landscape and the interior feelings, emotions and makeup of the individual person. Pinsky sees this observation as prescient of what our poetry eventually has turned out to be. He sees America's poetry as a poetry of shared memory--shared and socialized through the human voice.

The human voice of the poem as read aloud is the actual instrument, for Pinsky, of culture--making men and women social beings. This, of course, is the genius of Pinsky's Favorite Poem Project, which has generated two anthologies to date and a video archive of the social moments of America's poetic voices as brought to life by ordinary Americans.

He provides special insights into the "skewed quatrains and secular hymns" of Emily Dickinson (one of my favorite poets)and Walt Whitman's project (partly a failure and partly a success) to fashion himself into the persona of a great national bard.

This is one of the best descriptions of poetic "voice" that you will ever find. Pinsky himself has the credentials for it, given his own remarkable body of poems, his translations of Dante's Inferno and now his new book on David--perhaps one of the greatest models for all poetry.

If you write or read poetry, this is a book you will resonate with.
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