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date: 14 June 2024

Pinsky, Robertlocked

Pinsky, Robertlocked

  • James Longenbach


“My mother's dreadful fall,” runs a line by Robert Pinsky in Biography, a poem from his Jersey Rain (2000); “Her mother's dread / Of all things: death, life, birth.” One thing leads to another: “My brother's birth / Just before the fall, his birth again in Jesus.” And another: “Wobble and blur of my soul, born only once, / That cleaves to circles.” What may seem like a pattern of events in Biography is more precisely a pattern of words—a swirl of language that seems at once fateful and arbitrary. The mother's “dreadful” fall leads to the grandmother's “dread.” Her dread of “birth” invokes her grandson's “birth again in Jesus.” His second birth allows his brother, who was “born only once,” into the poem. This man, the author of the poem, is a soul who “cleaves to circles.” He is a poet who recognizes that his being is determined by ever-widening circles of experience, history, and chance—the “unseen multitudes” (as he puts it in An Alphabet of My Dead, also from Jersey Rain) who have determined the shape of his body, his house, the world through which he walks.


  • North American Literatures

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