Short Conversations With Poets: Robert Pinsky

Jesse Nathan in McSweeney’s:

JESSE NATHAN: What is your relationship to improvisation, in writing your poems? I’m interested in the extent to which they are (or seem) premeditated, versus “writing on nerve” as Frank O’Hara said. I imagine some chemistry of both. What does that mixture look like, for you? Do you do some kind of research before you write? Often your poems have a feeling of fingertip knowledge, as if it’s flowing right off the top of your head…

ROBERT PINSKY: For me, it is all improvisation . . . and hard work. The very word “preparation” freezes me. But let me quote a master. In his 1965 Paris Review interview, Dizzy Gillespie says a few things I have kept in mind all through my writing life. About improvisation he says:

It takes complete concentration. Of course, some nights you’re just complacent. You do some new things, but… you see, there’s thousands of ways to play on any chord. You have to figure it out in a split second and play it at the same time. It’s not instinct. It’s hard!

Not instinct but spontaneous. Immediate but difficult. Those seeming paradoxes, that make great sense to me in poetry, also apply to sports: ten people are running down the court, each person and both teams trying to anticipate what happens next—the person with the ball is hearing all the rhythms at once, and makes a no-look, behind-the-back pass at the right moment without thinking, about it, exactly. It’s more a matter of having thought about it many times before, less and less consciously over time: the decisive moment of action based on experience.

More here.