The Poet Laureate and the Fraygrants
Robert Pinsky goes toe-to-toe with participants in "The Fray."
What does it mean to be a Jewish poet in an America where ethnicity seems increasingly less important?
As to the idea "How could it be, then, that Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Blake, Wordsworth, et al. are so universally agreed upon." Well, some people think Chaucer is outdated; I personally think Shakespeare though a great, great artist in the plays is often second rate in the sonnets; Pound deprecated Wordsworth and Milton; and some people think Blake is a scoundrel; etc., etc. What lasts is what doesn't bore people, I guess.
Horowitz, I hope you are right that ethnicity is less important. I do think that our terms for these things will seem quaint to our grandchildren. I find "Jewish" an immensely rich, fascinating historical reality that I will be thinking about as long as I live--"ethnicity" is an inadequate term for all these threads and influences from the past that make up any one person: George Herbert through his poetry, and Coleman Hawkins through his music, are our ancestors, too.
Why are you happy to see ethnicity disappear? An America without it would seem awfully bland. Do you envision a day when there are no countries or religions (kudos to John Lennon), nothing to kill or die for?
I don't welcome any cultural reality "disappearing"--I remember your original terms as "less important" and that phrase made me think of racism, blood-hatred, snobbery, etc. Remember, my family motto is "All of the Above," so my Chinese and Hindu and African-American and Islamic heritage is important to me, too.
By the way, if any of you are librarians or teachers, etc., and would like to have a public Favorite Poem reading in your community, my helper Maggie Dietz will send you a how-to kit: firstname.lastname@example.org, or FPP, 236 Bay State Road, Boston, MA 02215.
Former Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky is Slate's poetry editor. His Selected Poems is now available.