Robert Pinsky and Modern Memory

David Kaufmann in Poetry Daily:

Library_lamont_poet_robert_pinsky_-_largeJohn Ashbery once wrote of Frank O'Hara that he was too hip for the square and too square for the hip. The same might go for Robert Pinsky, who, in spite of his achievements and reputation, has not received the kind of scholarly attention one might expect. Of course, I would not want to claim that Pinsky is particularly hip. In spite of the fact that his fierceness increases with age, he is still the master of the Horatian middle style, and his work is still marked by the rigors of his early formalism. But for all that, Pinsky has indeed become somewhat unruly, and his poems range onto unexpected terrain. Though he does not belong to any avant-garde, living or dead, his work does not belong to any traditional school, either. While he is a deeply intellectual writer, his career displays an endearing and committed old-style populism. He just does not fit.

I want to argue that Pinsky has set himself the task of remembering the present. In a famous letter to Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno reminds his friend that reification—the reduction of collective labor and shared history to atomized, isolated, and seemingly “natural” facts—is a kind of forgetting. Objects, he claims, become dead things to our perception and memory once we forget the nexus from which they come, the web of human relations and endeavors that inhere in them. One of the jobs of thinking, then, would be to reconstitute that nexus, to make it visible again. That, I will maintain, is the point of Pinsky's signature poem, “Shirt.” Further, although Pinsky never resorts to Adorno's language, the drive to overcome reified forgetting has become the project of Pinsky's work in poetry and prose.

More here.