Stephen Yenser reviews Robert Pinsky’s new book of poems

Stephen Yenser in Poetry Daily:

Robert_Pinsky_Book_JacketAs the engaged reader discovers gradually and with increasing pleasure, Robert Pinsky’s new volume of poems, richly titled At the Foundling Hospital, delicately but persistently works in two ways at once. At the same time that it is a series of different kinds of what we casually call “lyric” poems, it is a constellation of musings on a number of subtly related motifs. Among these motifs are foundlings, slaves, ancestors, musical instruments, shells, threads and other filaments and filiations, names – all surprisingly reticulated terms, a little, ultimately uncontainable lexical tribe – and (almost inevitably) language itself, especially in its etymological dimension.

Pinsky is a master of his trade, one of the few living American poets who deserves that appellation. His individual compositions are prosodically firm and limber, whether in loose blank verse, longer six-to-seven-foot lines in distichs, tercets of four to five feet, or slant-rhymed couplets. He can craft a narrative, taut (“Radioman”) or vagarious (“The City”), invent a song (“The Orphan Quadrille,” “Genesis”), deftly translate a traditional sonnet (“Góngora: Life Is Brief,” after the Spanish poet’s “Menos solicitó veloz saeta”), make a mercurial dramatic monologue (“Mixed Chorus”), eulogize a kind of musician (“Horn”), relate local history (“The Foundling Tokens”), and noodle on locutions (“Improvisation on Yiddish”). His signature mode is meditation that incorporates thoughtful, often aphoristic, and sometimes humorous observation on matters of general interest, crisp description, and vivid anecdote – and conjures Horace in its perspicuity and geniality.

The result of the motifs binding this variety together is insistently a text, a term that stems from the Indo-European etymon teks-, which signified a fabrication, a thing made of fabric, specifically of wattle, comprising tree branches interlaced with boughs, tendrils, twigs, and the like (to be covered with clay and used as a shelter or domicile), fashioned in the first place by an ax.

More here.