Book: The Figured Wheel

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The Figured Wheel: New and Collected Poems, 1966-1996

Author: Robert Pinsky
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

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.


A collection of poems from one of America’s most innovative poets, The Figured Wheel illustrates Pinsky’s knack for recovering some of the pleasures of prose—storytelling, humor, the rich texture of a world filled with people and ideas—for poetry. In “The Night Game,” he recalls himself as a child imagining a Jewish southpaw, “Even more gifted/ Than Whitey Ford” who refuses to pitch on Yom Kippur. In “The New Saddhus,” he imagines a multicultural assortment of middle-aged men, “Kurd, Celt, Marxist, Rotarian,” setting out on a mysterious pilgrimage. Pinsky’s writing gets at the depths of human experience, in which everything is always repeating, but is also always new.

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