Reviews for Jersey Rain
Booklist Monthly Selections - #2 March 2000
Pinsky's contributions to poetry are legion. As poet laureate, he has enriched the role poetry plays in American life with his Favorite Poem Project. He has translated Dante and added new dimensions to contemporary poetry with his formal mastery, erudition, and artistic savoir faire. Poise and intellect do not preclude passion, however, especially in this ravishing and unusually revealing collection. These are the creations of a fanatic chess player; they are reasoned, elegant, seemingly detached, yet committed, obsessed, even haunted. Memories of his boyhood imagination yield images of armored knights and submarines, their glorious and ingenious metal carapaces protecting vulnerable hearts and porous minds. A piano, by turns an elephant, an "angelic nurse of clamor," and a "mistreated noble," dominates a small modest apartment. Hotel room televisions offer comforting distraction, and the alphabet is a mnemonic device of wondrous powers. Life changes shape and intent in Pinsky's poems, like the gods and goddesses of old, and his chronicling of its metamorphoses is grace incarnate. ((Reviewed March 15, 2000)) Copyright 2000 Booklist Reviews
Kirkus Reviews 2000 March #2
In addition to his poetry, Pinsky is best noted for his criticism and for his well-received 1994 translation of Dante's Inferno. This is Pinsky's first collection of verse since he assembled the work of the prior three decades in a 1996 volume. Most of the poems here have appeared previously in standard literary publications such as the Atlantic Monthly, the New Yorker, and Threepenny Review. Pinsky has gathered together here work on a wide variety of seemingly unrelated and unlikely poetic topics from Victrolas, computers, and televisions to a phonebook cover from the 1940s depicting a stylized, lightning-wielding Hermes, then to a vintage Oldsmobile and an alternately green and pink piano. This collection marks, in Pinsky's own estimation, ``a place near the end of the middle stretch of road'' where he glances, like a doorpost Janus, simultaneously backwards and forwards. He has a slight tendency to rhapsodize his subjects, and occasionally he becomes wistfully nostalgic, but he keeps himself honest, admitting that he often ``cannot tell good fortune from bad.'' At the same time, he pays homage to the ``centaurs [who] showed him truth in fabulation.'' Despite the dire conclusions of some of these poems (as in his ekphrastic ``At the Worcester Museum''), Pinsky never takes the easy path of existential despair. He persists, with the stoicism of the samurai and the medieval knight, embracing austerity, but never denying life. With a skilled craftsman's good-natured showing off, he manages to relate an entire neighborhood and family history through the account of a maltreated piano's changing hands. Copyright 2000 Kirkus Reviews
Library Journal Reviews 2000 May #1
Pinsky has several careers within the realm of literature: poet, translator, and public advocate of poetry. All of these influences can be felt in his new collection, which is the first assembly of his own lyric verse to appear since The Want Bone (The Figured Wheel served as a Collected Earlier Poems). At times, his poems reach for the extra-personal, the mythic or abstract, as in "The Knight's Prayer" or "To the Phoenix"; at others, they move through personal or confessional modes, as in "An Alphabet of My Dead" or "To Television." Pinsky seems most comfortable with the gnomic or elevated phrase: "The shifting hero wanders alien places,/ Through customs of cities and histories of races,/ Recollects, travels and summons together all--/ All manners of the dead and living, in the great Hall." Occasionally, his differing manners collide strangely, but Pinsky delivers, as ever, intelligent, pensive poetry of great beauty. For most collections.--Graham Christian, formerly with Andover-Harvard Theological Lib., Cambridge, MA Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2000 March #1
Despite the Springsteen-esque title, the same phrasal gifts that drive 1996's new and collected volume, The Figured Wheel, and Pinsky's acclaimed translation of the Inferno, are well-displayed in this slim, sixth collection. Unfortunately, most of the poems' occasions and insights don't quite measure up to the rhetorical firepower turned upon them. The hortatory mode dominates the collection: "To the Phoenix" begins, "Dark herald, self-conceived in the desert waste,/ What yang or yin enfolds your enigma best?" Invoking Prufrock, the body as "Vessel" is implored "O veteran immersed from toe to crown,// Buoy the population of the soul/ Toward their destination before they drown." "A Phonebook Cover Hermes of the Nineteen-forties" features "Fire zigzag in his grasp, labeled `Spirit/ Of Communication' unhistorical,/ Pure, the merciless messenger." There is pleasure in the sheer muscle of these constructions, and it's clear that the poet's archaisms are within his control. Yet the name-checks of Oprah, Ecco press editor Daniel Halpern and others grow tiresome, and the stabs at intimacy are tinged with a neo-Lowellian obsession with guilt and grandeur. One can't help reading pretentious references to Pinsky's duties as U.S. poet laurate into an "Autumn Quartet" (written "On my birthday"), which calls on "the heros of antiquity /To pass their lonely double knowledge on/ To such as Odysseus, who learned to tell the story/ Of his life, couched in as many lies as needed./ Among the epic bravos, a civic man." The prose centerpiece, "An Alphabet of My Dead," brings in family, a student suicide, Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch's Oxford Book of English Verse and "Plural dead in categories like counting sheep, the exterminated Jews of Europe, the obliviated Kallikaks of New Jersey " among others. "To Television," "The Green Piano" and other lighter pieces will delight fans, but the poems with more profound aspirations lack a penetrating introspection. (Apr.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.