Robert Pinsky

Robert Pinsky

A weeklong electronic journal.
Dec. 8 1998 3:30 AM

Robert Pinsky

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     Poker, sweet poker. The game last night was at the house of Michael Blowen. Though he and his wife, Diane White, both write for the Boston Globe the Sunday night game is not in the least bit literary. Most of the players are lawyers. Of course that makes it sweeter when one wins, and what a pleasure it is to tell the world of Slate that I came home last night richer by 45 mostly lawyerly bucks. Let's not think about what fraction of a billable hour that is for these guys. It's a little mysterious why we all enjoy sitting around betting small stakes (the limit is two dollars) on a game we learned as teen-agers. While we were laughing last night at a particularly funny and combative moment, somebody mentioned how inexpensive the evening was as entertainment. The companionship in a little world set apart from our work is the point, I suppose. The attorney who organizes the game and sends out the announcements will sometimes note my career, in a spirit of amiable deflation: "Fortunately for us, Robert's bets are more transparent than his poetry." I suppose the point is not the money but the winning and losing. Maybe we are just aggressively boring and boringly aggressive males, like the coughing 5-year-old who drones on about volcanoes and bombers. Though the sums are meaningless, a player who didn't care about winning and losing would ruin everything. You have to care about it. Which is one of my mottoes, I suppose. Years ago, I remember getting bawled out by some of our opponents when the San Francisco Bay Area poets played a softball game against the prose writers. I came into second base hard and straight ahead, to prevent a double play, as I learned to do as a kid. Some of the fiction writers suggested I had been watching too many tough-guy movies. God bless Bob Hass for reassuring me that the right way to play was the way I had done it. And this evening, a Favorite Poem Reading in Hartford, Connecticut, which I will attend and introduce. I suppose that the Favorite Poem idea, too, involves the principle that you have to care about it. Each person reads a poem by the likes of Dickinson, Ginsberg, Neruda, Whitman, etc., and says a few sentences about--well, about why one cares about it. The readings reflect their communities in interesting ways. This Hartford one tonight came about as a result of a Favorite Poem Reading in Provincetown, Massachusetts, this past summer. P-town is a Portuguese fishing town as well as a gay resort. So the readers that night included an 83-year-old woman who read a love poem, in Portuguese, by Camoens. Her son read his English translation. They were followed by the drag entertainer Musty Chiffon, who was followed by the superintendent of schools, a tree surgeon who read D.H. Lawrence, and a 13-year-old girl who read a poem about the ocean, mentioning that five members of her family of fishermen, over the years, had died at sea. After my remarks at the end of the Provincetown reading, a poet in the audience with the wonderful name Minerva Neiditz approached me and indicated that she would like to have a Favorite Poem Reading in her hometown, Hartford. So she is running--along with the University of Hartford, a library, a local arts organization, and some local donors--an event there tonight. They have booked a 700 seat hall, and the readers include a college president, a Jamaican baker, a Vietnamese immigrant, and some local students. I'll report on it tomorrow. I've been looking for one of the group pictures of readers at a Favorite Poem Reading--they are wonderful--and will try to supply one in order to illustrate today's Diary.

Robert Pinsky was named poet laureate of the United States in March 1997. His special undertaking as poet laureate is the Favorite Poem Project. His most recent books are The Sounds of Poetry and The Handbook of Heartbreak. He is Slate's poetry editor.