By YVONNE FRENCH
Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky extolled the importance of education several times during his Oct. 8 lecture and a subsequent question-and-answer session.
The lecture, "Poetry and American Memory," drew more than 100 people to the Mumford Room and others who listened to a live, computerized audio broadcast. It was the first such "cybercast" of a literary event at the Library. (The Nov. 4 "Books and Beyond" event with author William Styron and his biographer, James L.W. West, will also be available through the Internet.)
In his lecture, Mr. Pinsky described, from Gerald Holton's essay "Einstein and the Cultural Roots of Modern Science," a social class of Bildungsbürgertum: "that portion of the bourgeoisie whose capital consisted of their education."
He told the audience during a question-and-answer session: "If I could think of this [lecture] as a little lever I was pushing in people's heads, it would be 'My God, public schools are really important' because that is where the memory is created and memory is written. In a very dim sense in the country this is an important issue -- public education and the support of it. One of the things in my head as I wrote this thing is that [education] is really important in relation to democracy."
But, he said, "I'm not the pundit laureate, I'm the Poet Laureate." The theme of his speech was that poets and other artists who weave memories into their work help to preserve American culture.
"One reason Francis Ford Coppola's Godfather movies seem like great works, for me, is their persuasive imagining of the Sicilian and immigrant past, a historically layered underpinning." Other movies, he said, are thin in historical understanding and rely instead on spectacle. "Spectacle may stand for the body of the past, but not its soul."
He presented several poems that "suggest a characteristically American form of memory concentrated on certain themes: the fragility of community, the mystery of isolation and a peculiar, elegiac quality that is even self-contradictory, yearning as it does toward a past that in one way seems forgotten and sealed off, yet in another way determinant, powerfully haunting the present."
Mr. Pinsky read and analyzed eight poems, Abraham Lincoln's "My Childhood Home I See Again"; Philip Freneau's "The Indian Burying Ground"; Elizabeth Bishop's "Brazil, January 1, 1502"; Phillips Brooks's "O Little Town of Bethlehem"; William Carlos Williams's section of "Spring and All," which has come to be known as "To Elsie"; Robert Frost's "The Gift Outright" (which he said glosses over memory by mentioning historical fact); Frank Bidart's "Legacy"; and Frost's "Directive," which he called "the most profound poetic contribution to the project of American memory. ... Frost suggests that our destiny may lie in the difficult action of historical recovery and that the source of wholeness is in memory."
Mr. Pinsky recently has had two books published: The Handbook of Heartbreak: 101 Poems of Lost Love and Sorrow and The Sounds of Poetry: A Brief Guide.
Said Prosser Gifford, director of the Library's Office of Scholarly Programs, when introducing Mr. Pinsky: "What I find interesting is the way the two books, taken together, reflect Robert as a teacher. The physical, oral aspects of poetry combine with a sweeping, synoptic view of substance."
Mr. Pinsky also is the award-winning translator of The Inferno of Dante. He teaches in the creative writing program at Boston University.
He was appointed Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress in 1997 and reappointed in 1998, when Dr. Billington credited him with "encouraging a renaissance of spoken poetry in the United States." Mr. Pinsky's major initiative is the Favorite Poem Project, which will create an audio and video archives of many Americans reading aloud their favorite poems. It also is a Bicentennial program of the Library of Congress, the home of the Poet Laureate. The Library will mark its 200th birthday in the year 2000.
The Library will then add 200 video and 1,000 audio tapes of Americans reading their favorite poems to the Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature as one of the Library's birthday gifts to the nation. These readings will augment the archive's recordings of 2,000 poets and authors reading their work, including Robert Penn Warren, Robert Frost, Maxine Kumin and Gwendolyn Brooks.
The Center for the Book, which promotes books and reading and the appreciation of the written and spoken word, is the Library of Congress contact point for the Favorite Poem Project. The center is distributing informational packets and submission forms to its affiliated state centers in 35 states, to state libraries and to other institutions and libraries upon request. Contact the center by phone at (202) 707-5221, by fax at (202) 707-0269, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Packets and forms also are available, particularly in bulk, from Maggie Dietz, Project Director, Favorite Poem Project, Boston University, 236 Bay State Road, Boston, MA 02215; phone (617) 353-2821; fax: (617) 353-3653; e-mail: email@example.com.
For a full description of the project and an online submission form, visit the Web site of the New England Foundation for the Arts, another project sponsor, at: www.nefa.org.
Further information and ideas about sponsoring "Favorite Poem" projects are available in the April 1998 issue of American Libraries on pages 48-57. Articles include "Shared Memory: Libraries and the Poems We Love," by Robert Pinsky; "Building Poetry Audiences in Libraries," by Marsha Spyros; and "In the Eye of the Library: Poets at the Library of Congress," by Craig D'Ooge.
Ms. French is a public affairs specialist in the Public Affairs Office.