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The Figured Wheel fully collects the first four books of poetry, as well as twenty-one new poems, by Robert Pinsky, the former U.S. Poet Laureate.
Critic Hugh Kenner, writing about Pinsky’s first volume, described this poet’s work as “nothing less than the recovery for language of a whole domain of mute and familiar experience.” Both the transformation of the familiar and the uttering of what has been hitherto mute or implicit in our culture continue to be central to Pinsky’s art. New poems like “Avenue” and “The City Elegies” envision the urban landscape’s mysterious epitome of human pain and imagination, forces that recur in “Ginza Samba,” an astonishing history of the saxophone, and “Impossible to Tell,” a jazz-like work that intertwines elegy with both the Japanese custom of linking-poems and the American tradition of ethnic jokes. A final section of translations includes Pinsky’s renderings of poems by Czeslaw Milosz, Paul Celan, and others, as well as the last canto of his award-winning version of the Inferno.
This widely praised version of Dante’s masterpiece, which won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the Harold Morton Landon Translation Award of the Academy of American Poets, is more idiomatic and approachable than its many predecessors. Former U.S. Poet Laureate Pinsky employs slant rhyme and near rhyme to preserve Dante’s terza rima form without distorting the flow of English idiom. The result is a clear and vigorous translation that is also unique, student-friendly, and faithful to the original: “A brilliant success,” as Bernard Knox wrote in The New York Review of Books.
The Poet Laureate’s clear and entertaining account of how poetry works.
“Poetry is a vocal, which is to say a bodily, art,” Robert Pinsky declares in The Sounds of Poetry. “The medium of poetry is the human body: the column of air inside the chest, shaped into signifying sounds in the larynx and the mouth. In this sense, poetry is as physical or bodily an art as dancing.”
As Poet Laureate, Pinsky is one of America’s best spokesmen for poetry. In this fascinating book, he explains how poets use the “technology” of poetry—its sounds—to create works of art that are “performed” in us when we read them aloud.
He devotes brief, informative chapters to accent and duration, syntax and line, like and unlike sounds, blank and free verse. He cites examples from the work of fifty different poets—from Shakespeare, Donne, and Herbert to W. C. Williams, Frost, Elizabeth Bishop, C. K. Williams, Louise Glück, and Frank Bidart.
This ideal introductory volume belongs in the library of every poet and student of poetry.