high school jazz saxophonist to National Poet Laureate...
how Robert Pinsky went from making art with a horn to art with words.
"The work comes not with the responsibilities but
Dancer Mark Morris
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Favorite Poem Project
a career in poetry...
you were a teen what did you want to be?
wanted to be a jazz saxophone player. I was not nearly good enough.
When I went to college I discovered that there was an art based on the
sounds of words, in which I could possibly do some of the things I was
not gifted enough to do as a musician.
is a Poet Laureate?
comes from laurel, the leaf that stays green after you pick it: a symbol
of memory. To crown a poet with laurel is to recognize the deep bond
between poetry and memory. The title "poet laureate" is only part of
my title, the other part is: Consultant in Poetry to the Library of
is, I serve the representatives of the people. It is very appropriate
that the American Laureate is associated with the Library of Congress,
which is the greatest storehouse of human memory there has ever been.
are the responsibilities of the National Poet Laureate?
a largely honorary post, with minimal duties: a lecture or reading each
fall and spring, and planning and introducing the poetry programs at
the Library of Congress. The work comes not with the responsibilities
but with opportunities.
the most challenging aspect of creating a poem?
the sounds of the vowels and consonants, the shapes of the sentences,
to be physically graceful and expressive.
are you early memories of poetry?
was goofing around with the sounds of words rhythms, rhymes,
consonants and vowels that echo or clang from as long as I can
remember. When I was about 17, I began to dimly perceive this habit
was related to a great art, the art of poetry.
your favorite kind of poetry?
and early 17th-century poetry by people like Thomas Campion, Fulke Greville,
Ben Jonson, Thomas Nashe because they sound the sweetest.
advice would you give to students on setting and reaching their goals?
down something you want to attain five or ten years from now. Don't
show the paper to anyone, or talk about it, but know where the paper
is and what is on it. Think about that goal from time to time.
If you want to get good at something, study the absolutely best examples
you can find--study the monumental achievements.
interview conducted September 2000