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This article is taken from PN Review 17, Volume 7 Number 3, January - February 1981.

The Interest of Poetry Robert Pinsky

(A talk given as part of a panel discussion at the 1979 MLA meeting in San Francisco)

My response to our topic ("Current Unstated Assumptions About Poetry") will be to muse briefly about what makes poetry interesting - to formulate my own assumptions about the interest of poetry, and to speculate a little about rival assumptions, as I think they are reflected in the institutions or social arrangements that surround poetry in my own life. And finally, I'll present an example of my idea of an "interesting" poem - magisterially interesting, in the way that a work of art can interest us, permeating our inner life.

In a book called The Situation of Poetry I tried to put forward the assumption that poetry is a mode of speech, continuous with all the other ways we use language - the assumption, though I didn't state it in these terms, that poems are things that people say. Poems are more than that, too, of course; but just as Pound urges that poetry be at least as well-written as prose, one would like to write poems that are at least as interesting as good gossip; at least as urgent as "Help, I'm stuck!"; at least as communicative as "Excuse me, you're standing on my foot". This continuity of poetry with speech - the idea that a poem is something one says, and more - has been my "unstated assumption".

The opposite, alternative assumption is that poetry ...


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