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Gulf Music: Poems Paperback – Bargain Price, September 30, 2008
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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.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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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
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.
‘Concentration’ seemed just the kind of punitive euphemism
The adult world used to coerce, like the word ‘Citizenship’
On the report cards, graded along with disciplines like History,
English, Mathematics. Citizenship was a field or
Discipline in which for certain years I was awarded every
Marking period a ‘D’ meaning Poor. Possibly my first political
Emotion was wishing they would call it Conduct, or Deportment.”
Robert Pinsky “Immature Song”
Loved “Work Song”, “The Wave”, “Antique,” and his translation “From the Last Canto of Paradise.”
I drowned in the fire of having you, I burned
In the river of not having you, we lived
Together for hours in a house of a thousand rooms
And we were parted for a thousand years.
Ten minutes ago we raised our children who cover
The earth and have forgotten that we existed.
It was not maya, it was not a ladder to perfection,
It was this cold sunlight falling on this warm earth.
When I turned you went to Hell. When your ship
Fled the battle I followed you and lost the world
Without regret but with stormy recriminations.
Someday far down that corridor of horror the future
Someone who buys this picture of you for the frame
At a stall in a dwindled city will study your face
And decide to harbor it for a little while longer
From the waters of anonymity, the acids of breath.
There is an allusion to Eurydice after Orpheus looks to check that she is following him and thus painfully is separated by death from his beloved again even after he had ventured into the realm of the dead to recover her in “When I turned you went to Hell.” There is an allusion to Marcus Antonius following Cleopatra after the disastrous battle of Actium. Lovers, death, hope, pain, temporality, beauty…poetry and the vestiges of meaning.
This collection was published in 2008. I believe Gulf Music is a reference to Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, as well as post 9/11 America, as well as the general gulf between a person and their expression. When he wasn’t busy becoming a poetic powerhouse, Pinksy found the time to earn a PhD in Philosophy. His ideas are full of intellectual nutrition. Sometimes his forms and subject matter went over my head a bit (hence 4/5 Stars), but some of his simpler poems stuck with me nonetheless.