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This article is taken from PN Review 131, Volume 26 Number 3, January - February 2000.

Robert Pinsky and the Ends of America Justin Quinn

Robert Pinsky's third collection, History of My Heart (1984), is for many people the breakthrough. Indeed, he himself jokes in a recent interview about the need at the time to move on from the previous collection: 'You couldn't follow Explanation of America with a book called (my wife and friends used to make up these titles) The Real Truth About Everything Else or The Nature of the Universe.'

In key poems in History of My Heart, the tone becomes heightened, the transition quicker and more surprising, the panoramas of human doing wider and for that more exhilarating. 'The Figured Wheel', for instance, is an allegorical whistle-stop tour through the expanses of America:

The figured wheel rolls through shopping malls and prisons,
Over farms, small and immense, and the rotten little downtowns.
Covered with symbols, it mills everything alive and grinds
The remains of the dead in the cemeteries, in unmarked graves and oceans.


Spraying flecks of tar and molten rock it rumbles
Through the Antarctic station of American sailors and technicians,
And shakes the floors and windows of whorehouses for diggers and smelters
From Bethany, Pennsylvania to a practically nameless, semi-penal New Town [...]

There is no explanation, no mediation: Pinsky concentrates on movement, jumpcut, speed. Despite the odd mention of places outside the US (Iasi in Romania, the 'Soviet northernmost settlements'), this is a decidedly American panorama that the ...

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