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Robert Pinsky on “The Poetry of Home”

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Robert Pinsky, our ninth Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry, is the second featured poet in our weekly collaborative video series with The Washington Post, “The Poetry of Home.”

Pinsky opens the video, which launched this morning, with a reflection on our current moment: “I think that, like nearly everyone who has been staying home because of the pandemic, I have felt both the anxiety and cabin fever, as it’s called, and I’ve also felt grateful.” He continues, “It can feel heavy with longing—and heavy with longing, in my mind, is preferable to hollow, which one also feels. If I’m heavy with longing, at least I have some idea of what I want.”

This subject of longing is what leads Pinsky into further discussion of the poem he shares, “House Hour,” which is part of a longer poem (“The City Elegies”) published in his 1996 collection The Figured Wheel: New and Collected Poems 1966-1996.

Just as we saw Joy Harjo on screen from her studio in Tulsa, we see Pinsky in his home office in Boston. To preface “House Hour,” the poet explains that some of his favorite places to walk with his wife, Ellen, are now off limits—such as the Mount Auburn Cemetery—and now they’re appreciating “the beauty of the neighborhoods.”

Pinsky discusses the nostalgia he feels walking through his current neighborhood as it connects to his working-class upbringing. That nostalgia is especially important right now, and was equally important when he was writing “House Hour”—a time when he and his wife were deciding whether to stay in Boston or move back to California. He says the familiarity of the neighborhood made him realize he “didn’t want to go back to Berkeley. I wanted to be here where I’d be reminded of the New Jersey of my childhood.”

The video ends with the lines of “House Hour” animated on screen as Pinsky reads them—the last stanza echoing sentiments from his opening remarks in the video, guiding us home:

If I am hollow, or if I am heavy with longing, the same:
The ponderous houses of siding,
Fir framing, horsehair plaster, fired bricks
In a certain light, changing nothing, but touching
Those separate hours of the past
And now at this one time
Of day touching this one, last spokes
Of light silvering the attic dust.

We hope you take comfort in this video and in the entire series, which continues with Juan Felipe Herrera on April 24 and Natasha Trethewey on May 1.

Comments (2)

  1. Thank you for bringing light to the swirling darkness.

  2. Like Joy Harjo’s, Pinsky’s hits me hard, thinking of the Boston suburbs I grew up in. Much as I love my present, more remote home, I am still drawn by deep roots to those kinds of homes and neighborhoods. Mt. Auburn Cemetery, where he talks about walking during the pandemic, is where many of my grandparents and great-grandparents – and even a great-great grandfather – are buried. (Fun fact – there is a Protestant section and a Catholic section, and until adulthood I didn’t realize they were the same.)

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