NewsPoet: Robert Pinsky Writes The Day In Verse

Robert Pinsky visits NPR headquarters in Washington D.C., on Thursday. i i

hide captionRobert Pinsky visits NPR headquarters in Washington D.C., on Thursday.

Ebony Bailey/NPR
Robert Pinsky visits NPR headquarters in Washington D.C., on Thursday.

Robert Pinsky visits NPR headquarters in Washington D.C., on Thursday.

Ebony Bailey/NPR

Today at All Things Considered, we continue a project we're calling NewsPoet. Each month, we bring in a poet to spend time in the newsroom — and at the end of the day, to compose a poem reflecting on the day's stories.

The series has included Pulitzer Prize winner Tracy K. Smith as well as Craig Morgan Teicher, Kevin Young, Monica Youn, and Carmen Gimenez Smith.

Today, poet Robert Pinsky brings us the news in verse. He served as the United States Poet Laureate from 1997-2000. He is the author of several collections of poetry, including Sadness and Happiness, Jersey Rain and The Figured Wheel which was a Pulitzer Prize nominee. His latest book is called Selected Poems. He is also the author of several works of prose, including The Sounds of Poetry: A Brief Guide. He is the poetry editor for Slate Magazine and he teaches in the graduate writing program at Boston University.

Robert Pinsky sat down with Audie Cornish to talk about his day at NPR's All Things Considered, and about the poem he wrote for the show. But he told her that "write" was not exactly the verb he would have used. "I think 'compose' is more accurate. Because you're trying to make the sounds in your mind and your voice," he explained. "So I compose with my actual voice."

Writing on deadline can be daunting for a poet — but Pinsky said he finds that generating material is the easy part. "The polishing and the sandpapering and the worrying and turning around might be weeks... sometimes even months" he said. But was he concerned that he did not have enough time to fine-tune this poem? "I have the rest of my life to polish this if I want to," he told Cornish.

Pinsky differed from past NPR NewsPoets in another way too — when he came to the morning meeting, he didn't take any notes. That's because, as he said, he doesn't know how. "This was a disaster in junior high school," he joked, but he also added that "to me what you retain is a very important filter. And I can pretend to take notes, but it's not me."

And while other poets used structures to create verses quickly, Pinsky's poem was purely his own. "I love form, but I'm not interested in forms," he explained. I've never written a sonnet or a villanelle or a sestina or anything like that. For me it's a kind of line, it's a rhythm, its something musical." Pinsky said that his task was "to find a kind of line that seemed to generate something."

All Things Considered's NewsPoet is produced and edited by Ellen Silva with production assistance from Rose Friedman.

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