A Conversation with Poet Robert Pinsky
by Joel Katz
Robert Pinsky is the 39th United States Poet Laureate -- a prestigious honor awarded to the top poet in our land every two of years by the members of the Library of Congress. You could say that Mr. Pinsky is now the King of the Poets! As part of his job he gets to speak with the President, and decide ways that poetry can reach and improve more people's lives. In his career, Mr. Pinsky has written over ten books of poetry; he also edits magazines, appears on television, and teaches young poets how to write better poetry at Boston University. And he plays the saxophone!
FEN: How has it been being Poet Laureate?
PINSKY: I've been thrilled by the opportunity to attend Favorite Poem readings in cities and small towns, and to see a wide range of Americans --various ages, professions, ethnicities, kinds of education, regions -- sharing poems they love, by an equally wide range of poets.
FEN: What is the Favorite Poem Project?
PINSKY: The project's goal is to make an audio and video archive of 1000 Americans, with each person saying aloud a poem he or she loves, along with a few sentences about the poem's personal importance for that individual reader. Check out the Favorite Poem Project on the Web.
FEN: When, as a kid, did you first know you were going to be a poet?
PINSKY: I didn't know it as a kid. I had daydreams of being a professional musician, and fears of being a derelict.
FEN: What can parents or teachers do today to get kids reading more poetry?
PINSKY: You must begin with something you love yourself, and you must love it physically -- for the sound -- first of all. It is all based on reading aloud. When they are small, they sit on your lap or next to you when you read aloud to them, and that comforts and pleases both of you.
FEN: If you had to explain to a group of kids (who have lots of other stuff to do!) why poetry should be important to them, what would you say?
PINSKY: That it is an art that makes its medium -- in contrast to the many mass arts that we also enjoy -- one, individual human body. The reader's physical voice is the poet's medium. This intimacy, and the fact that poetry is inherently, in its nature, on a human scale, gives us a valued haven from mass art, mass media, mass products designed and distributed rapidly, in many identical copies, by experts. I enjoy mass media a lot, love my computer and TV and CD player: but poetry is fundamental. When I say a poem by Emily Dickinson aloud, my physical breath is that artist's medium: It thrills me and comforts me on a fundamental, ancient level.