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Essential Pleasures: A New Anthology of Poems to Read Aloud Hardcover – April 6, 2009
"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
Don't miss best-selling author Kwame Alexander's "Rebound," a new companion novel to his Newbery Award-winner, "The Crossover,"" illustrated with striking graphic novel panels. Pre-order today
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Pinsky, poet, scholar, and poetry advocate, has been a motivating and innovative force in the great popularization of poetry. His Favorite Poem Project brought poetry lovers of all ages and tastes together in a stream of excellent anthologies, including Poems to Read (2002), and he continues to match erudition with unabashed fun in his latest dynamic endeavor. Pinsky’s mission is to share both the “intellectual and bodily” pleasures of poetry, the latter best appreciated when poetry is read out loud—hence this ebullient read-aloud anthology. With an oceanic knowledge of poetry and a musical ear, Pinksy has assembled an astonishingly vital, enjoyable, centuries-spanning array cleverly organized by form. Here are beautiful, mournful, and funny love poems; narrative poems; odes; complaints; celebrations; parodies; and insults by both celebrated and obscure poets. A CD of Pinsky’s expert readings accompanies the book, but the point is to do it yourself. Readers who read these wisely selected poems out loud, whether to themselves, a sweetheart, friend, cat, or plant, will be amazed at what they discover. --Donna Seaman
About the Author
Robert Pinsky is the author of eight collections of poetry including, most recently, his Selected Poems. His translation The Inferno of Dante won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in Poetry. His CD PoemJazz, with Grammy-winning pianist Laurence Hobgood, was released in 2012. As United States Poet Laureate, Pinsky founded the Favorite Poem Project (www.favoritepoem.org), in which thousands of Americans shared their favorite poems. That project gave rise to the previous anthologies, Americans’ Favorite Poems and An Invitation to Poetry, with each poem accompanied by readers’ comments. Pinsky teaches at Boston University.
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Still it is true that some poems sound better read aloud than others, and Robert Pinsky, U.S. Poet Laureate 1997-2000, has come up with a collection of some of the best ever written, designed to please both ear and mind.
The organization is in seven parts. Part I features "Short Lines, Frequent Rhymes," e.g., Gwendolyn Brooks, "We Real Cool"; Robert Frost, "Dust of Snow"; Gerard Manley Hopkins, "Spring and Fall"; Edgar Allan Poe, "Fairy-Land"; five by Emily Dickinson, and twenty-six more. Notice that for the most part the selected poems are not necessary the poet's best or best known. And perhaps the greatest accomplishment in English that might fall under the heading of "Short Lines, Frequent Rhymes," namely Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" doesn't appear perhaps because of its length. I would have liked to have seen included e e cummings's "anyone lived in a pretty how town."
Part II "Long Lines, Strophes, Parallelisms" features the first three chapters of Ecclesiastes; "When You're Lying Awake" from W.S. Gilbert; Allen Ginsberg's inspired musings on Walt Whitman, "A Supermarket in California"; a couple from Walt Whitman and fourteen others. In his introduction to this part, Pinsky presents some thoughts of how stanzas might break down, how lines might be divided and how the energy and sense of a poem might thereby be affected.
Part III is "Ballads, Repetitions, Refrains," an eclectic presentation including Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky'; Julia Ward Howe's "Battle-Hymn of the Republic"; Pinsky's own "Samurai Song"; Edwin Arlington Robinson's "Miniver Cheevy," etc., and this famous anonymous gem:
Western wind, when will thou blow,
The small rain down can rain?
Christ, that my love were in my arms
And I in my bed again!
Part IV: "Love Poems" includes Matthew Arnold's "Dover Beach" with its beautiful turn to open the last stanza: "Ah, love, let us be true/To one another!..."; Robert Herrick's "Upon Julia's Clothes"; Andrew Marvell's famous "To His Coy Mistress"; something from Sappho, three sonnets from Shakespeare, and many more.
Part V gives us "Stories" of which my favorite is "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" by T.S. Eliot which Pinsky rightly sees as more of a story poem than a love poem; Robert Browning's chilling "My Last Duchess"; Shelley's cautionary tale, "Ozymandias"; Wilfred Owen's take on that old lie, "Dulce Et Decorum Est"; Ernest Lawrence Thayer's popular "Casey at the Bat"; and thirty-five more.
Part VI is entitled "Odes, Complaints, and Celebrations" and it features William Blake's "The Tyger"; which is a celebration of sorts; Coleridge's beautiful opium dream "Kubla Khan"; "Ode on a Grecian Urn," "Ode to a Nightingale," and "To Autumn" from Keats; and many others.
In Part VII Pinsky gives us "Parodies, ripostes, Jokes and Insults" including Eliot insulting himself in "How Unpleasant to Meet Mr. Eliot" while parodying Edward Lear's "How Pleasant to Know Mr. Lear" (also included); and some thirty-five more. Here's Theodore Roethke's joke on the square entitled "Academic":
The stethoscope tells what everyone fears:
You're likely to go on living for years,
With a nurse-maid waddle and a shop-girl simper,
And the style of your prose growing limper and limper.
Pinksy provides an introduction to each part. There's a CD included with the book in which Pinsky reads twenty-one of the poems including "Ode to a Nightingale," and Milton's "Methought I saw my late espoused saint." I must observe that while Pinsky reads very well and it was a pleasure to hear him, he might want to redo his reading of Emily Dickinson's "The Soul selects her own Society" since he has the wrong meaning of "present" as evidenced by his pronunciation "prez'ent" instead of "pri-zent'" with the accent on the second syllable. The sense in the poem
The Soul selects her own Society--
Then--shuts the Door--
To her divine Majority--
Present no more--
Unmoved--she notes the Chariots--pausing--
At her low Gate--
Unmoved--an Emperor be kneeling
Upon her Mat--
I've known her--from an ample nation--
Then--close the Values of her attention--
is that it is no use to present to her anymore since she is "unmoved" and has closed the Values of her attention--/Like stone--." (NOT that her divine Majority is no longer present.) The sense is that of the Soul as a kind of exalted royalty that one might present before.
This quibbling aside, Pinsky has put together a most interesting and entertaining poetry experience, one that I highly recommend.
(Note: thirteen of my books are now available at Amazon including a collection of my poetry entitled, "Like a Tsunami Headed for Hilo.")
All of these poems, from Wyatt to Williams, from Greville to Ginsberg, read well aloud, as Mr Pinsky believes they should. As an editor, his choices are catholic (small c) and capacious. Unexpected selections exist side by side with "traditional" choices. In an anthology which stresses the vocal quality of verse, we are surprised by the exclusion of W. H. Auden and Dylan Thomas, but are grateful to see old favourites such as Countee Cullen, W. B. Yeats, Emily Dickinson, and the glorious poets of the 16th and 17th centuries. Pinsky's introductions and editorial comments are teacherly without ever becoming burdensomely didactic. Accessible, inviting, intelligent, surprising -- this anthology is highly recommended.
Not boring at all.