Issue 53 |

rev. of The Want Bone by Robert Pinsky


Even the gods crave the pungence of language we have "monstered up" for them in
The Want Bone. In poems like "Lament for the Makers," "Hut," and "At Pleasure Bay," Robert Pinsky names the ways we are made -- and unmade -- by wanting, and how what we want is essentially shaped by naming. But though language, like the scroll in a mezuzah, marks us "That, and not this" ("Memoir"), the spinning world allows us little permanence. Like Whitman, who was not abashed by the power and spectacle of life feeding on life, Pinsky observes the laws of transformation, whether in the temple remade as a Puerto Rican Baptist church or in a potter moulding cheap cups for a tea seller whose customers "smash the empties, and waves of traffic grind the shards / To mud for new cups" ("The Hearts").

Like Whitman, too, Pinsky embraces the spiritual coupled with the sensual (sometimes literally, as in the closing lines of "At Pleasure Bay"), and readers may recall the inscription "One's-Self I Sing" in the poet's claim to multiple identities -- and no identity -- in "Window." Sheer delight in lists -- in the poem "Shirt": "The back, the yoke, the yardage. Lapped seams," the proper names of the things of this world -- fills
The Want Bone with robust energy, though ultimately Pinsky's holy desire leaves us dancing "At the precipice, each man and woman / Chanting in a darkness" ("Pilgrimage").