Last week, CambridgeEditors posted a blog entry discussing the Writers Resist movement and the efforts of our nation’s writers, artists, and poets to speak up against dangerous political injustice, and to continue displaying their rights to free expression.
In our blog, we highlighted the reading of a new poem written and performed by nationally-acclaimed poet Robert Pinsky. His writing gave a collective, unified voice to the struggles of the American people and sought to regain our own ideals of democratic, unrestricted communication.
The author of nineteen books of poetry, essays, and translations, Pinsky was honored with the National Endowment for The Humanities Fellowship in 1974, and was named the United States Poet Laureate and Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress in 1997. Pinsky is currently the only poet to ever serve three terms as America’s national poet, a role that entrusts him with the great responsibility of raising the national consciousness and appreciation for both reading and writing poetry.
Almost twenty years ago, Pinsky founded the Favorite Poem Project: a collaboration of thousands of people from all across the country reading video recordings of their favorite works of poetry as a way to “ demonstrate that poetry has a vigorous presence in the American cultural landscape.” The final product was a collection of short video documentaries showcasing individual Americans, reading and speaking about poems that have personally impacted them from iconic writers like Walt Whitman, Sylvia Plath, and Pablo Neruda. The project also generated more than 18,000 letters from people all over the country, and has been used by our nation’s teachers to encourage their students to consider the power of poetry in their own day-to day lives.
In an interview with the New York Times on April 3rd, 1998, Pinsky described his reasons for creating The Favorite Poem Project as a way to express the important link between poets and national freedom. He tells The Times,
”America is not; contrary to popular opinion, a country that ignores its poets. We are a nation with a powerful film industry and visual arts but we, too, are a vital part of American culture.”
Today, Pinsky continues to work as an advocate for bringing the messages of poets to a larger audience, giving readings at universities across the country. He also contributes and edits for publications like The New Yorker and The Best of the Best American Poetry.
In addition to his own ongoing writing projects and work with Writers Resist, Pinsky teaches creative writing as a faculty member of Boston University’s MFA program and is currently in California serving as a professor for the graduate creative writing program at Stanford University.
Recently, CambridgeEditors was lucky enough to get in touch with Dr. Pinsky himself and ask him to further describe his personal experience with Writer’s Resist as well as share his thoughts on the way poetry has impacted American culture. CambridgeEditors could not be more honored to have had the opportunity to correspond with Dr. Pinsky ourselves, and gain further insight into what he believes is the role of American writers and poets in 2017.
Below is the full transcript to his interview conducted over email on March 8, 2017:
CambridgeEditors: How did you become involved in the Writers Resist movement, and what motivated you to participate in the rally in New York City?
Pinsky: Poets have a stake in truth, and the need to resist falsehood in the Trump administration is clear. I was grateful to be invited by Erin Belieu of Writers Resist and Suzanne Nossel of PEN, to take part in what will be an ongoing resistance.
CE: Which other readings and poems from the protest were particularly impactful or memorable for you?
Pinsky: Jill McDonough woke us all up, and warmed us on that cold day, with a wonderful reading of Seamus Heaney’s “The Republic of Conscience.”
CE: What qualities do you believe make writing and poetry an effective form of resistance in the fight for democratic ideals against political injustice?
Pinsky: Poetry, uniquely, gets under an audience’s skin— or to be more precise, into the audience’s breath and vocal cords. Even if we don’t actually say a poem’s words aloud, we imagine saying them. The First Amendment recognizes that literal and figurative and vital aspect of “speech.” The process I mean is demonstrated by the videos at www.favoritepoem.org.
CE: Both your piece and Rita Dove’s reading at the event have been called “inaugural” or “counter-inaugural” works in opposition to President Trump’s official inauguration ceremony. How do you feel about this title?
Pinsky: “Inaugural” refers to a beginning, and resistance to a sinister regime, resistance to what now calls itself “alt-right.” resistance to nativism, anti-Semitism, racism . . . that resistance is, in a word, just beginning.
CE: And what is your opinion about the Trump administration’s decision not to have an official inaugural poet read at the ceremony?
Pinsky: Given issues regarding health care, public education, income inequality, exploitation of women, official falsehood— given such issues, these ceremonial matters have little or no importance.
CE: Your poem, “Exile and Lightning”, deals with America’s multicultural ancestry and legacy as a nation of immigrants. In what ways do you believe that writing and art have contributed to shaping this legacy?
Pinsky: Our music, nearly all of it based somehow on the blues, our feature films, based on our city immigrants and urban fantasies of pioneers as well as pioneers, our fiction with its visions of limit and freedom, the poetry of Dickinson and Whitman — all of that involves the hybrid, fluid nature of American culture, its core of improvisation and blending.
CE: As our country moves forward under this new political administration what do you believe are the best ways for writers, poets, and artists to continue to combat injustice and continue the effort to protect our rights to free speech and expression?
Pinsky: First of all, there are our responsibilities and rights as citizens that we share with everyone: our right and duty to tell our representatives what we think. Second of all . . . well, second of all, every writer, every artist, makes a decision of their own.
Our staff would like to sincerely thank Dr. Robert Pinsky for taking the time to share his thoughtful, passionate views with us and our readers and for once again reminding us all about the power of words.
Not only do we all have the ability to share our ideas and make our voices heard, we have a responsibility to inspire courage and strength in others through beauty and art. It’s time to come together and tell those people who try to silence that creativity that we will never stop speaking out. Every day will continue to make decisions of our own.
– Paige, Intern