cover image Gulf Music

Gulf Music

Robert Pinsky, . . Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $22 (83pp) ISBN 978-0-374-16749-3

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.)