An Explanation of America (Magill's Literary Annual 1981)
In 1976, Robert Pinsky published The Situation of Poetry: Contemporary Poetry and Its Traditions, where he examined influences exerted upon contemporary poetry by the traditions of modernism, essentially Romantic and post-Romantic trends. His insightful criticism derived from a fairly straightforward thesis: “that we learn many of our attitudes toward language and reality from the past, and that it takes considerable effort by a poet either to understand and apply these attitudes . . . or to abandon them.” He noted, too, that modern poetry’s ambition had something “to do with giving the poem some of the status of an object or phenomenon, rather than a statement.” This leads to a curious conflict between the poet’s abstract medium (words and sentences on a page) and “his convictions about reality and art,” which tend to emphasize concrete particulars.
An Explanation of America might well be seen, if not as a resolution of this conflict, at least as an attempt to use the conflict to advantage. Indeed, having read An Explanation of America, one might look at The Situation of Poetry as working out the rhetorical stance from which An Explanation of America makes its assertions. The poetry is bold and ambitious, nearly Whitmanesque, although decidedly more refined; it carries tradition to logical...
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Bibliography (Magill's Literary Annual 1981)
Dietz, Maggie, and Robert Pinsky, eds. An Invitation to Poetry: A New Favorite Poem Project Anthology. New York: W. W. Norton, 2004.
Downing, Ben, and Daniel Kunitz. “The Art of Poetry: LXXVI.” Paris Review 144 (Fall, 1997): 180-213.
Pinsky, Robert. Democracy Culture and the Voice of Poetry. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2002.
Pinsky, Robert. The Figured Wheel: New and Collected Poems, 1966-1996. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1996.
Pinsky, Robert. Poetry and the World. New York: Ecco Press, 1988.
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