Poet's Work Is Never Done: America's Laureate E'er Reads, Writes

By Marco, Donna De | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), April 9, 1999 | Go to article overview

Poet's Work Is Never Done: America's Laureate E'er Reads, Writes


Marco, Donna De, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Washington at Work is a regular feature that focuses on the people behind area businesses and government.

America's poet laureate is a man on the move in a restless land. He has a regular teaching job up in Boston, but he spends days on the road. His office is here, tucked away on the top floor of the Library of Congress, but he is rarely in.

There are no family photos in Robert Pinsky's office, no chewed up pens or coffee cups or any other evidence of permanent residence or bouts with the Muse. Just a computer, a small stack of papers, an open volume of Ben Johnson's poetry, pictures of his predecessors and bookshelves.

Washington is where the laureate hangs his hat, but this week he was just passing through. Mr. Pinsky recited poetry to kids, schmoozed with literati, hobnobbed with Washington pols and put his bully pulpit of poetry to work in the service of verse. He is on a multicity tour in honor of National Poetry Month.

Wednesday begins with a telephone call at 7:05 a.m. Still in his pajamas, he talks on the air to a top-40 radio disc jockey, who congratulates him on his unprecedented third term as poet laureate of the United States, announced Monday.

After the 10-minute interview, Mr. Pinsky chats on the phone with his wife in Boston. Then, he heads back to bed in his Washington hotel room for a quick one-hour nap before his day really begins.

As the poet laureate consultant in poetry of the United States, Mr. Pinsky was appointed by the Library of Congress to be the spokesman and advocate for poetry.

Simultaneously, he must juggle a teaching job at Boston University and his post as poetry editor for the on-line magazine Slate and find time to write more of his own poetry.

Currently he is only a poem or two short of a new book of poetry. Despite constantly running from city to city, especially during the fall and spring, Mr. Pinsky, author of five books of poetry and three collections of essays, does find time to write.

"Airplanes and airports provide a lot of privacy," he said.

He keeps in contact with his Boston University students via e-mail. His Monday morning classes currently have substitute poets teaching in Mr. Pinsky's absence. But his students won't be missing out on the poet laureate's teachings - he's tacked on extra classes for the students to attend.

Wednesday morning Mr. Pinsky sent off e-mails to some of his students and then finished writing the preface for an upcoming book.

As poet laureate for the past two years, Mr. Pinsky has been a very public figure, meeting with the media and the public touting the importance of poetry and its meaning when read aloud. Mr. Pinsky believes poetry must be heard.

"The artist writes with his or her voice," Mr. Pinsky said in his own deep eloquent voice. "It's a physical art. It uses the sounds of the human voice."

Before even leaving his hotel Wednesday morning he had another live interview with a Cleveland radio station. Cleveland is one of Mr. Pinsky's next stops on the tour.

Mr. Pinsky stays on schedule thanks to what he and his friends call the "leather god" - a tiny black-leather date book that outlines his every move.

Mr. Pinsky said he has learned how to juggle all his duties. The Long Branch, N.J., native said he was a "poor student" in junior high and high school.

"You become good at improvising," he said, adding that he's had a lot of practice at getting things done in the last minute. …

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