Poetry is an oral phenomenon, according to Robert Pinsky, the former US Poet Laureate. “The poem is something that happens every time someone says it,” he said, in front of a filled-to-capacity Kemper Auditorium on Friday. “When I read a poem aloud by another poet, my body becomes his medium, my voice, his instrument,” added Pinsky, who served an unprecedented three years as Poet Laureate from 1997 to 2000. He now teaches at Boston University’s Graduate School of Writing. Pinsky, who has been featured on The Colbert Report and The Simpsons, read his work at the lecture with thought-provoking, humorous commentary, and interacted with the audience in a casual and encouraging manner. He also taught an English master class during sixth and seventh period. During the event, Pinsky asked the audience to get involved and ask him questions. “Applauding is nice, but it doesn’t get you off the hook. I like to make you work,” he said. When a member of the audience asked him if he only writes in free verse, the poet replied that he writes in meter to prove that he can. “Every poem that’s any good rhymes; it might not have end rhymes,” Pinsky said. “Here, listen,” he said, unnecessarily, as all ears and eyes were already fixed on him, and then demonstrated rhyme motifs in a few poems. “Are the sounds not effective?” he challenged. Before reading his famous poem, titled “At Pleasure Bay,” Pinsky cited his hometown of Long Branch, New Jersey as a source for his interest in history. The poet said that he often traces history through both the human beauty and the suffering that are wrapped up in an average place or object. “We came from somewhere; everything came from somewhere,” he said. Although he admitted that few people remember these seemingly mundane stories, he encouraged audience members to become vessels for the stories of their ancestors. Pinsky’s visit was made possible by the Sandra Isham Vreeland Memorial Fund, which sponsors a visiting poet each spring for a poetry reading and a master class. Jonathan Stableford, Chair of the English Department, and Kevin O’Connor, Instructor in English, decide on which poet to invite each year. “Pinsky is a logical choice,” said Stableford. Stableford added that he and O’Connor try to balance the voices from year to year, bringing both “hot shot” poets and engaging teachers. Stableford thought that teaching PA students, who are considerably younger than his usual pupils, was, “very special for Pinsky.” Stableford was excited to see the large audience at the reading and speculated that the following day’s Saturday classes might have encouraged some teachers to make the event mandatory. “There’s something magical about being in a room with people who think it’s okay to spend time listening to poetry,” he said. Dan Silva ’08 enjoyed the master class with Pinsky. He said, “It’s funny because some of the older alumni teachers [at PA] like to brag about how when they attended [PA], Robert Frost came and gave a master class, but in forty or so years, I feel like we’ll be bragging just the same about how Robert Pinsky came and read for us when we were in school.”
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