Sunday, February 19, 2017
Robert Pinsky, US Poet Laureate from 1997-2000, continues to revel in poetic voices. In "Gulf Music" ($14 in paperback from Farrar, Straus and Giroux; also for Amazon Kindle) Pinsky begins with the vagaries of human remembering and ends with the poet's vision "beyond all boundaries, at memory's undoing," in an excerpt from his translation of the final Canto of Dante's Paradiso.
In between is his discovery of the original meaning of "thing." It "first meant an assembly," he writes in a note, "then the issue discussed, and then from that relatively abstract meaning came the modern sense of a concrete object. … Every artifact, every natural object, with its ghostly wrapping of associations and meanings, begotten and forgotten, is a gathering of minds or contending voices: every thing is an invisible assembly."
The poet considers a book, a glass, a jar of pens, a photograph, a door, paper currency, and--pliers ("What is the origin of this despair I feel/ When I feel/ I've lost my grip, can't manage a thing?// Thing/ That means a clutch of contending voices--/ So my voice:....").
There is an assembly gathered in the book, and the poet is not afraid to berate his own "Immature Song": "Do you disrespect Authority merely// Because it speaks so badly, because it deploys the lethal bromides/ With a clumsy conviction that offends your delicate senses?--but if// Called on to argue such matters as the refugees you mumble and/ Stammer, poor citizen, you get sullen, you sigh and you look away."
Does music have a place in such a world? Maybe, sings the poet, it is exactly the right place.
Pinsky and Grammy Award-winning jazz pianist Laurence Hobgood are scheduled to perform Sunday, February 26, at Chico State's Harlen Adams Theatre. The 7:30 p.m. production is called Poemjazz, in which jazz improvisation and the poet's words are rhythmically interconnected, as the language of jazz brings out the melodies of voice. Pinsky's funny, poignant and political words are not just set to music; they become a kind of music themselves.
Tickets are available through chicoperformances.com. Adults are $32, Seniors $30, Youth $20, and Chico State students $10. For more information call (530) 898-6333.