Reviews for Gulf Music

Booklist Reviews 2007 October #1
*Starred Review* In the ravishing title poem in his first collection since Jersey Rain (2000), Pinsky--three-time poet laureate of the U.S.--creates a zydeco beat as he revisits the hurricane that all but destroyed Galveston, Texas, in 1900, and tells the story of a Jewish immigrant who enters America under a false name "through the still-wounded port." Considering the long reach of our ancestors, he writes, "The past is not decent or orderly, it is made-up and devious." But what else do we have but memories and story? In "The Anniversary," one of many poems fueled by the shock waves of 9/11, Pinsky asks, "Whence our being? / In the dark roots of our music, impudent and profound?" Calling on Whitman and Dickinson, Ray Charles and Doctor John for backup, Pinsky, serious and seriously funny, riffs on the forgotten definitions of the word thing and the lost meanings of the dollar bill's symbols. Contemplation of torture and prejudice is paired with an effort to grasp life, to perceive the "net of being," and to bridge the gulf between past and present, the living and the dead. Pinsky is at his wily and brilliant best in this soulfully musical volume. Copyright 2007 Booklist Reviews.

Library Journal Reviews 2007 September #1

Former U.S. Poet Laureate Pinsky's seventh collection (after Jersey Rain , 2001) presents a carefully tuned yet impassioned vision of a past-haunted present where lessons of history remain unlearned and individuals struggle for comprehension amid atrocities ("In Africa/ The raiders with machetes to cut off hands/ Might make the victim choose, 'long sleeve or short' ") and contradictions ("Culture the penalty. Culture the escape"). Pinsky's long lines and associational momentum convey the immediacy of our data-glutted times. While the ever-widening stream of language carries within it the talismans and clues we need to establish a sense of continuity in our lives, it moves too quickly: "In it comes, you hear it, and that/ Selfsame second you swallow or expel it: an ecstasy of forgetting." While on one hand he charms with metaphor--a jar of pens is a "quiver/ of detached stingers"--on the other, he surprises us with stark candor, as in his 9/11 poem, "The Anniversary": "...So on television we watched/ The terrible spectacle, repetitiously gazing/ Until we were sick not only of the sight/ Of our prodigious systems turned against us/ But of the very systems of our watching." This anthology contains some of Pinsky's most invigorating work. Recommended for most collections.--Fred Muratori, Cornell Univ. Lib., Ithaca, NY

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2007 September #3

The "gulf" in the title of Pinsky's seventh collection is both the large southern body of water that has been the site of so much weather-related misery, and the unavoidable distances between an author's thoughts and feelings and his expression. Poems from the first section frequently butt up against subjects "too large for speech," and break down into music and mystery. The title poem begins with a devastating hurricane in Galveston in 1900 and reaches after fragments and song to recall what was lost: "O try my tra-la-la, ma la belle, mah wallah-woe." Another poem describes the "ecstasy of forgetting," in which an enraptured audience at once hears and doesn't hear what it's being told. Pinsky (Jersey Rain ) describes solid things in the second section, though he can't help noting that "thing" itself first meant "to confer or address." Of a camera, he writes, "The flash of your hammer/ Fashions the shelter." Signs of Pinsky's craftsmanship abound. Perhaps most laudable is that Pinsky--a former Poet Laureate and one of America's best-known poets--is not above self-criticism: in writing about peace, his last thought compares his own mind to a monkey "who fires his shit in handfuls from the cage." (Oct.)

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