Liberate Poetry! Robert Pinsky’s Manifesto for Readers

Daniel Bosch in The Daily Beast:

ImgRobert Pinsky’s new anthology with commentary, Singing School, argues that the medium of the poet is the reader’s body, that words and punctuation and tonal manipulations are means to ends felt not in mind but in the mouth, ears, lungs, and trunk of the oral performer of a poem. What good is served, Pinsky would ask, by so much talk about whether or not we have “understood” a work of art, if what we mean by “understanding” largely ignores our embodied experience of that work? Every word of Singing School is pitched against the decapitation of poetry’s head from its body.

Singing School is so lean and mean, any précis calls for a spoiler alert. Its title is lifted from William Butler Yeats’ 1926 poem “Sailing to Byzantium,” and the infamously negative couplet: “Nor is there singing school but studying / Monuments of its own magnificence.” A brief preface orients the reader to the kinds of attention Pinsky will advocate, and he divides the book into four sections or “courses” of 17 to 25 poems, each deftly-curated to tease out the complexity of an important on artistic theme: “Freedom,” “Listening,” “Form,” and “Dreaming Things Up.”

As you will see below, Pinsky spins his picks concisely: the total pedagogical apparatus amounts to just 35 of 222 pages (and many of these pages are full of verse). A lot of the poems in Singing School are canonical, and this fact will make the book a powerful choice for teachers of any high school or early college survey of principal literary genres. Middle school students would love it, too, but most middle school teachers would wrongly assume the poems too difficult. They are only difficult to explain, not to love.

More here.