Tuesday, October 16, was the release date for Robert Pinsky’s newest collection of poetry, Gulf Music from Farrar, Straus & Giroux, which received a starred review in PW. The former poet laureate of the U.S. might have been expected to be basking in adulation at a fancy book party or, at the very least, celebrating with family and friends. Instead, he was in Chicago for the premiere of There Is a Bridge, a documentary created by Memory Bridge: The Alzheimer’s and Cultural Memory Foundation. Pinsky hosted the film, which illustrates the work of Memory Bridge, www.memorybridge.org, whose central statement is that “Everyone, regardless of their degree of mental sharpness, needs companionship, not only physically to survive but also to live emotionally.” Countering the common notion that those who have lost their memories have lost themselves, the documentary shows ways that families, friends, caregivers and communities can connect and communicate with people suffering from Alzheimer’s and related dementias.
Pinsky said the request for his involvement “came out of the blue. [Memory Bridge founder] Michael Verde called me. He didn’t want someone who is medical or scientific or political, because this isn’t really about those things. This crisis epitomizes a lot of things about human life and American culture. We all lose things, we all forget things, we all must choose who to stay with, and these are things I deal with in my own poems.”
In addition to the documentary—which is being distributed by American Public television and will be aired on PBS stations around the country—Memory Bridge explores the minds of people with Alzheimer’s through commissioned paintings by Josh Dorman, who created “maps” of the inner worlds of five patients in a Chicago care facility. Another program pairs Chicago junior high and high school students with patients who become their “buddies” and friends.
“This project is a graphic, prominent example of a process that seems to me near the center of human life and has been fundamental to my recent work,” Pinsky said. When PW spoke with the renowned poet, he was on his way to New York for the Academy of American Poets first Poets Forum, October 18-20, where he is to read from Gulf Music.