Robert Pinsky collaborates with jazz musicians: What do music and poetry share?

Arts, entertainment, and more.
May 19 2011 10:14 AM

The Sounds Poems Make

How the sax led Robert Pinsky to poetry—and now to jazz collaboration.

(Continued from Page 1)

It is like what we imagine knowledge to be:
dark, salt, clear, moving, utterly free,
drawn from the cold hard mouth
of the world, derived from the rocky breasts
forever, flowing and drawn, and since
our knowledge is historical, flowing and flown.

Another example, William Carlos Williams, in "Fine Work With Pitch and Copper," moving from (figuratively speaking) the key of "eh" to "oo":

Now they are resting
in the fleckless light
separately in unison
like the sacks
of sifted stone stacked
regularly by twos
about the flat roof
ready after lunch
to be opened and strewn.

One more example to demonstrate that the principle is far from limited to modern or free-verse poetry. Here is Ben Jonson, speaking fluently and plainly in the great extended final sentence of "His Excuse for Loving":

If you then will read the Storie,
First, prepare you to be sorry
That you never knew till now,
Either whom to love, or how:
But be glad, as soon with me,
When you know, that this is she,
Of whose Beautie it was sung,
She shall make the old man young,
Keepe the middle age at stay,
And let nothing high decay,
Till she be the reason why,
All the world for love may die.

Fluent and plain, with a speaking directness, the sentence is also composed in the meter of "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star." It is like Charlie Parker or Dizzie Gillespie transforming and sailing above some traditional piece of harmony or rhythm.

Robert Pinsky Reads With Bobby Bradford and his Mo'tet 


What I hear in Bishop, Jonson, Stevens, Williams in my mind and to my ear has everything to do with what I hear in the music I love. When I read my poems while listening intently to the playing of Bobby Bradford or Rakalam Bob Moses, aware that they are listening to the lines I am reading, two currents at the heart of my life come together. Gillespie, in his Paris Review interview, speaks of hearing two or more rhythms at a time. I still have a copy of the magazine: Fall, 1965. In the same interview he says about improvising at a certain musical level: "It's not instinct. It's hard." Listening to the musicians, hearing them responding to what I do as a kind of nonsinging vocalist, I try to hear several rhythms, several currents of harmony and emotion, all at once. I think of the performances as demonstrating something that is in the poems: not replacing it, but showing its nature. At these times, essential, separate themes of my life come together as one.

To watch more of Robert Pinsky's performances with jazz musicians, click the links below.

You may also read the poems featured in these performances ("Antique," "Samurai Song," "Street Music," and "Ginza Samba," all of which are included in Robert Pinsky's new Selected Poems.


Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore

And schools are getting worried.

Global Marches Demand Action on Climate Change


Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

Why a Sketch of Chelsea Manning Is Stirring Up Controversy

How Worried Should Poland, the Baltic States, and Georgia Be About a Russian Invasion?

  News & Politics
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM -30-
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Sept. 21 2014 1:15 PM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 5  A spoiler-filled discussion of "Time Heist."
Sept. 21 2014 9:00 PM Attractive People Being Funny While Doing Amusing and Sometimes Romantic Things Don’t dismiss it. Friends was a truly great show.
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 21 2014 8:00 AM An Astronaut’s Guided Video Tour of Earth
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.