cover image Selected Poems

Selected Poems

Robert Pinsky, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $26 (224p) ISBN 978-0-374-25860-3

Since Sadness and Happiness (1975) Pinsky has rightly accumulated praise for his ambitious attempts to speak for America, traditional craft (iambic pentameters, couplet rhymes), and careful use of his own life. Pinsky's mentally ill mother, his extended family, and their urban Jewish roots inform many poems, though he ends up not so much confessional as representative, devoted to an American melting pot. This first selected in 14 years from the former U.S. poet laureate contains no new poems; it begins with recent work: a poem in the form of a prayer invokes a "Holy One who loves blood sacrifice/ And burnt offerings, commerce and the Arts"; "Rhyme" depicts "all the unsteady/ Chambered voices that share it,/ Each reciting I too was here." That sense of an American gathering extends throughout the volume, into the angry political poems of Gulf Music (2007), a reference to Hurricane Katrina, through the prose blocks of "An Alphabet of My Dead," and back to what may still be Pinsky's most famous poem, the book-length An Explanation of America (1979), excerpted here, whose clearly argued triads of blank verse compared the United States after Vietnam to the republic in earlier days—and to imperial Rome. However well Pinsky fits a wide modern audience, he is also someone whose poems should last. (Apr.)