Robert Pinsky American Literature Analysis
Pinsky continually confronts the major contemporary issue of human interconnectedness and every person’s involvement in one another’s lives: ethnically, socially, politically, historically, religiously, temporally, and through place. Though raised in a Jewish household, he seems to express an ambiguity or inner conflict of calling himself Jewish in his poems and dismisses a labeling of himself as only a Jewish author. His poetry encompasses far more than one religion or one place. In the closing notes of The Figured Wheel, Robert Pinsky states: “Religion concerns me . . . as a vivid, charged example of the passion to create.” His affinity for religion then may be a religion of art itself.
Pinsky’s poetry is known for reverberating and echoing the past in each present moment and image. For example, in “Shirt,” one finds a circling back and forth in time and place between a shirt the speaker is wearing, the people who made this shirt, a fire in 1911 at the Triangle Shrtwaist factory in New York City, and the English poet George Herbert. This poem acts like a photograph album where each image is like a depiction of different scenes but all of the same book, all somehow of similar fate and destiny.
For Pinsky, it became art that could translate the complexities of the world and its people into an understandable language. This language is best understood through hearing poetry spoken by a living human being. Pinsky often claims that a person’s actual voice in poetry is necessary to the art of poetry.
Pinsky’s poetry is also known for its sharp contrasting images and juxtapositions. For instance, in “The Figured Wheel,” an imaginary wheel of fate rolls through several scenes set in contrast with one another: In the first line, for example, the wheel rolls through “shopping malls and prisons.” By setting up this contrast within the same line, Pinsky forces the reader to reexamine all that is viewed as generally good and bad. In the closing lines, the wheel rolls by Pinsky himself and his family, and this is where Pinsky’s major theme of human interconnectedness, a theme that reverberates throughout his life’s work, becomes explicit.
On a smaller scale, the poem “The Unseen” takes a specific scene and concentrates on the immediate effects of one place while broadening itself to the effects years later on tourists going through the Nazi death camp in Krakow, Poland. The poem begins with a general visual description of Krakow and its surroundings. The dream vision in the poem brings the reader back to a hypothetical historical account of the death camp in action during World War II. In this way, it acts as a striking contrast to the tourists roaming around an empty death camp like a museum. Once again, Pinsky echoes the past through each present moment, and as each moment unfolds, the reader may understand more about where he or she has come from rather than where he or she is going.
In poems such as “The Want Bone,” Pinsky is less specific about a certain place with a particular history. Instead, the poem’s scene is a beach with a shark’s dried mouthbone opened like a gaping hole, and the speaker in the poem is describing the bone and his reaction to the bone. The poem still uses a specific object as a vehicle to a universal idea. In this way, it is similar to “Shirt” but leaves the reader craving something more, because there are less specific details about this bone’s history. It is a universal bone, some object that desires or wants or instills desire in the person seeing the bone.
Furthermore, a sense of desire lurks throughout Pinsky’s poems, and sometimes it is a desire to know the reasons for history’s outcome and humanity’s fate. Pinsky’s use of the wheel is appropriate in his cyclical analysis and descriptions of generation after generation being faced with the same problems. In “The City Dark,” from The Figured Wheel , one may use the line “the mathematical veil of...
(The entire section is 2,876 words.)