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Gulf Music: Poems Hardcover – October 16, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. The gulf in the title of Pinsky's seventh collection is both the large southern body of water that has been the site of so much weather-related misery, and the unavoidable distances between an author's thoughts and feelings and his expression. Poems from the first section frequently butt up against subjects too large for speech, and break down into music and mystery. The title poem begins with a devastating hurricane in Galveston in 1900 and reaches after fragments and song to recall what was lost: O try my tra-la-la, ma la belle, mah wallah-woe. Another poem describes the ecstasy of forgetting, in which an enraptured audience at once hears and doesn't hear what it's being told. Pinsky (Jersey Rain) describes solid things in the second section, though he can't help noting that thing itself first meant to confer or address. Of a camera, he writes, The flash of your hammer/ Fashions the shelter. Signs of Pinsky's craftsmanship abound. Perhaps most laudable is that Pinsky—a former Poet Laureate and one of America's best-known poets—is not above self-criticism: in writing about peace, his last thought compares his own mind to a monkey who fires his shit in handfuls from the cage. (Oct.)
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About the Author

Robert Pinsky was Poet Laureate of the United States from 1997 to 2000. Creator and director of the Favorite Poem Project and poetry editor at Slate, he also teaches in the graduate writing program at Boston University.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 96 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1st edition (October 16, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374167494
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374167493
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.4 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,635,225 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Martin H. Dickinson on August 2, 2009
Format: Paperback
Robert Pinsky is well known to many, having been Poet Laureate, written a book review column, appeared on the Newshour, and led the Favorite Poem Project. But how many read his poetry? In Gulf Music, Pinsky shows us what a strong poet he truly is, with a great range and all kinds of strategies for making a poem interest and delight his reader and listening audience. Truth in advertising: I have myself been a participant in Pinsky's Favorite Poem Project, one of the really great services done for poetry in our daily life that I can think of.

But look at these poems, read them out loud and listen to their melody. You can take the political poems. They do put events of our lives in perspective, and they do it well. But look at First Things to Hand--a series of poems about ordinary objects that prove anything but ordinary--a glass, a book, a jar of pens, a door--really proving what poetry and Pinsky can do. By far my favorite, found among the few translations at the end of Gulf Music (more truth in advertising: I love Latin poetry and even wrote a poem about the Latin language) is The Wave, Pinsky's translation of Virgil, Georgics III:237-244:

A breast-shaped curve of wave begins to whiten
And rise above the surface, the rolling on
Gathers and gathers until it reaches land
Huge as a mountain and crashes among the rocks

Was Virgil a contemporary poet? This is a really deft treatment and brings this little gem from the Georgics (translations of which are usually plodding and dull) up to date. This is NOT the stuff of Latin class, but something we can understand and relate to emotionally.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful By D. L. Smith on March 4, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Pinsky is an amazing poet and this is a strong collection. Some of the poems were published in a chap book recently which I had already purchased awhile back. Still, the rest of the poems were so enjoyable I had to pick this up, too. If you like contemporary poetry (yeah, what does that mean?), especially with a political flavor, this may be just what you are looking for.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By T. Porges on April 13, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Robert Pinsky has one of the great poetic voices, and if you read his earlier work, like _Sadness and Happiness_, the pleasure of that voice is immediate, and lasting. This book isn't in that voice, though; it's like a long vertical stack of other voices, discovered meanings, sounds that refused to settle in or lose their strangeness. It's beautiful, and unexpected.
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Format: Paperback
I cannot uniformly appreciate all of Pinsky’s poems, but some of them are very powerful and amply demonstrate his prowess as our former poet laureate. I will not go into the myriad problems and disconnections with modern poetry—the way it lingers in the academic ivory tower while the poetry of pop (or more hopefully, underground) music resonates with the masses, but it always bears consideration. I have not read much Pinsky since I was studying poetry in the 90’s, but I do remember a political edge on some of his poetry that I appreciated and that I see he has not lost.

Here are my notes, excerpts, and random musings on the book:

The poem “First Things to Hand” is amazing—section 2 “Books—is a powerful meditation on one of my most prized material possessions and the same, I think, for those who value and love words.

Part 7, “Door” is interesting if you understand the allusions and wordplay.

“Between the January vulva of birth
And the January of death’s door
There are so many to negotiate,

Closed or flung open or ajar, valves
Of attention….”

January is an allusion to the two-faced god of beginnings and transitions, gates, doorways, doors, endings, and time, Janus, who the ancient Romans placed above or on their doors. This month was dedicated to him.

“Beneath that rubble,
Inscriptions: annals of
Atrocities of the righteous.” From “The Dig.”

“When I was quite young
My miscomprehension was that ‘Concentration Camp’
Meant where the scorned were admonished to concentrate,
Humiliated: forbidden to let the mind wander away.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Lynn E. Oliva on April 9, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I had never seen what a chapbook was until I had one in hand. Gulf Music: Poems was in that format and it was interesting. I had read about chapbooks before, but I did like it. Try one and I think you will like the format.
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