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Democracy, Culture and the Voice of Poetry
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix I: Culture 1 II: Vocality 19 III: Self-Consciousness 30 IV: Performance 43 V: Social Presence 46 VI: Readers 55 VII: The Narcissistic and the Personal 64 VIII: Models of Culture 73 IX: Conclusion 79 Index of Names 95

Promotional Information

Pinsky's conception of the poet as citizen--not legislator, but something between town crier, parson, and fool on the hill--gives us hope that the cultivation of a shared memory will, in time, make us a people -- Jonathan Galassi Pinsky's startlingly original thesis--that democracy's contradictory drive toward monadic individualism and mass conformity is echoed, and resolved, in the parallel tension between the solitary practice of poetry and the collective invocation of its voice--is itself a cultural event of major significance. In showing how poetry, by its mimetic embodiment, artfully resists and engages our demotic cultural dilemma, he sharply defines the moral and social place of poetry for our times. His model of internal cultural analysis will inform and delight both poet and reader, humanists as well as social scientists. This is perhaps the most important discourse on cultural analysis by a major poet since Eliot's Notes Towards the Definition of Culture. -- Orlando Patterson, Harvard University Robert Pinsky has produced a fine, lean book on a very large topic. With fresh and compelling arguments, Pinsky writes that poetry has a significant role to play in a mass-democracy, that American poetry has produced extraordinary art, and that this genre has truly engaged with the challenge to traditional art forms raised by democratic revolutions. -- Robert von Hallberg, University of Chicago An important contribution to our thinking about the place of poetry in American life. No one could be more qualified to speak on this subject than Robert Pinsky, who combines extraordinary gifts as a poet, critic, and public ambassador for the art. The book is full of provocative thought and sharp observations about poems and responses to poetry. -- Paul Breslin, Northwestern University

Promotional Information

Pinsky's conception of the poet as citizen--not legislator, but something between town crier, parson, and fool on the hill--gives us hope that the cultivation of a shared memory will, in time, make us a people -- Jonathan Galassi Pinsky's startlingly original thesis--that democracy's contradictory drive toward monadic individualism and mass conformity is echoed, and resolved, in the parallel tension between the solitary practice of poetry and the collective invocation of its voice--is itself a cultural event of major significance. In showing how poetry, by its mimetic embodiment, artfully resists and engages our demotic cultural dilemma, he sharply defines the moral and social place of poetry for our times. His model of internal cultural analysis will inform and delight both poet and reader, humanists as well as social scientists. This is perhaps the most important discourse on cultural analysis by a major poet since Eliot's Notes Towards the Definition of Culture. -- Orlando Patterson, Harvard University Robert Pinsky has produced a fine, lean book on a very large topic. With fresh and compelling arguments, Pinsky writes that poetry has a significant role to play in a mass-democracy, that American poetry has produced extraordinary art, and that this genre has truly engaged with the challenge to traditional art forms raised by democratic revolutions. -- Robert von Hallberg, University of Chicago An important contribution to our thinking about the place of poetry in American life. No one could be more qualified to speak on this subject than Robert Pinsky, who combines extraordinary gifts as a poet, critic, and public ambassador for the art. The book is full of provocative thought and sharp observations about poems and responses to poetry. -- Paul Breslin, Northwestern University

About the Author

Robert Pinsky, who served as Poet Laureate of the United States, 1997-2000, is the author of many books, including: "Jersey Rain", "Americans' Favorite Poems", "Poems to Read", "The Sounds of Poetry", "The Handbook of Heartbreak", "The Inferno of Dante: A New Verse Translation", among others, and three works published by Princeton: "An Explanation of America"; "The Situation of Poetry"; and "Sadness and Happiness". He is Professor of English and Creative Writing at Boston University. This book emerged from the Tanner Lectures that he delivered at Princeton's University Center for Human Values in 2001.

Reviews

Three-term U.S. poet laureate Robert Pinsky delivered the Tanner Lecture on Human Values at Princeton University last April, reprinted here as Democracy, Culture, and the Voice of Poetry. The nine short chapters (including "Culture," "Vocality" and "The Narcissistic and the Personal") of this large-print, 4" 7" book follow "the voice of poetry emphasizing its literal and actual `voice' within the culture of American democracy." Culture is the operative word here, and Pinsky begins etymologically with the word's "old agricultural and biological connotations," and arcs through de Tocqueville, Frost's "Home Burial" and poems by Stevens, Williams and Bishop in pursuit of its varying expressions and "invocations" of social life. He ends with an extended and illuminating discussion of the Favorite Poem Project Pinsky undertook during his laureateship, whereby any American reader of poetry was invited to send in their favorite poem and describe its significance to them.

"An engaging analysis of the way the intimate rhythms of American poetry invoke a social presence. Pinsky, a former poet laureate, passionately argues that American poetry is driven by the anxiety of being forgotten; the solitary poet makes us aware of the presence of others as he yearns for their approval while striving to preserve his uniqueness... He concludes that only through the individual reader does a poem reach full bloom."--Natalya Sukhonos, New York Times Book Review "Pinsky is, by turns, whimsical and profound."--Carol Muske-Dukes, Los Angeles Times Book Review "Pinsky argues forcefully that poetry has not been rendered obsolete by globalization, commercialization, and technological advance; instead, poetry is more necessary than ever, as it gives voice to the individual."--Library Journal "One is never in any doubt about the tendency of Pinsky's argument. He urges appreciation not of what the poet does in writing a poem, but of what the poet does in reading it. The poet mainly counts as one more reader. So, too, Pinsky's idea of the place of poetry in democratic culture comes from an image of someone reading a poem to an audience."--David Bromwich, The New Republic "Pinsky ... champions the importance of each individual whose breath creates or carries a poem, without which society would be nonexistent."--Alexandra Yurovsky, San Francisco Chronicle

In a lean volume organized into nine chapters, celebrated American poet, teacher, and past poet laureate Pinsky offers general musings about culture, memory, and the democratic impulses and technologies that either frame or brush up against poetry. Pinsky argues forcefully that poetry has not been rendered obsolete by globalization, commercialization, and technological advance; instead, poetry is more necessary than ever, as it gives voice to the individual. Pinsky points to the success of the Favorite Poem Project, which he designed and embarked on as poet laureate, as evidence that poetry still has meaning in our culture. This congenial but somewhat sketchy work is recommended for those interested in Pinsky and his undertakings; to reach further into the notion that poetry is intrinsically a social medium, one might turn instead to the Nobel acceptance speeches of Derek Walcott and Seamus Heaney, found in Antilles and Crediting Poetry, respectively.-Scott Hightower, Fordham Univ., New York Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

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