The Figured Wheel: New and Collected Poems, 1966-1996

The Figured Wheel: New and Collected Poems, 1966-1996

by Robert Pinsky

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The Figured Wheel fully collects the first four books of poetry, as well as twenty-one new poems, by Robert Pinsky, the former U.S. Poet Laureate.

Critic Hugh Kenner, writing about Pinsky's first volume, described this poet's work as "nothing less than the recovery for language of a whole domain of mute and familiar experience." Both the transformation of


The Figured Wheel fully collects the first four books of poetry, as well as twenty-one new poems, by Robert Pinsky, the former U.S. Poet Laureate.

Critic Hugh Kenner, writing about Pinsky's first volume, described this poet's work as "nothing less than the recovery for language of a whole domain of mute and familiar experience." Both the transformation of the familiar and the uttering of what has been hitherto mute or implicit in our culture continue to be central to Pinsky's art. New poems like "Avenue" and "The City Elegies" envision the urban landscape's mysterious epitome of human pain and imagination, forces that recur in "Ginza Samba," an astonishing history of the saxophone, and "Impossible to Tell," a jazz-like work that intertwines elegy with both the Japanese custom of linking-poems and the American tradition of ethnic jokes. A final section of translations includes Pinsky's renderings of poems by Czeslaw Milosz, Paul Celan, and others, as well as the last canto of his award-winning version of the Inferno.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Pinsky's decision to reprint his four previous volumes in their entirety, without revision, requires some daring: how many poets would not benefit from selection? Daring of one kind or another has always been a feature of Pinsky's work, although it showed itself first in his refusal to be daring in the easily recognizable ways represented by confessional poetry and surrealism, the modes that dominated poetic taste when Pinsky began publishing. In defiance of those fashions, Pinsky set out to write a sociable poetry of ordinary life, relying on earnest sentiment, rational exposition, and a certain modest cleverness. The results of that program still seem fresh today, twenty years after Sadness and Happiness, Pinsky's first book of poems, appeared in 1975.” —Langdon Hammer, The Yale Review

“There are times in these poems when one feels . . . that what is presented as a kind of grand vision of humanity is a version of self-delight. As with Whitman [there is] a potential for coldness in Mr. Pinsky's wide-angle vision. Most of the time, though, the poems of his maturity manage their startling shifts and juxtapositions in ways that give intellectual and sensuous delight. . . . What makes Mr. Pinsky such a rewarding and exciting writer is the sense he gives, in the very shape and structure of his poems, of getting at the depths of human experience, in which everything is always repeated but also always new. The feathery and furry tribal gods, Jesus, Basho, the frail old people who came to his father for eyeglasses . . . and Robert Pinsky himself are all characters in a story that has no end, and possibly no ultimate meaning, either, but to which we listen spellbound because . . . it is our story.” —Katha Pollitt, The New York Times Book Review

“Since the death of Robert Lowell in 1977, no single figure has dominated American poetry the way that Lowell, or before him Eliot, once did. . . . But among the many writers who have come of age in our fin de siecle, none have succeeded more completely as poet, critic, and translator, than Robert Pinsky.” —James Longenbach, The Nation

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
To say that Pinsky's verse is thunderous is not to imply that it is loud and unbridled. Rather, like the true nature of thunder, each poem begins with a bolt to make its presence known (as with titles like "The Want Bone" and "Doctor Frolic" or such first lines as "Afternoon light like pollen"), rumbles on to strike primitive chords of religion and mythology in the reader's mind and winds down to a charged silence hanging on the coattails of a simple image. Brought together here are 16 new poems, the work of his four original collections and a sampling of his fine translations, including a canto from his well-received version of the Inferno. Taken as a whole, this is the record of a poet who grows from highly competent to near-transcendent, becomes more serious in tone while more complex in meter and enlivens everything from a baseball game to observations of his young daughter to an essay, in verse, on psychiatrists with a language that would be equally at home on vellum.

Product Details

Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date:
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Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.72(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


In the early winter dusk the broken city dark
Seeps from the tunnels. Up towers and in gusty alleys,

The mathematical veil of generation has lit its torches
To light the rooms of the mated and unmated: the two

Fated behind you and four behind them in the matrix
Widening into the past, eight, sixteen, thirty-two,

Many as the crystal dream cells illuminating the city.
Even for those who sleep in the street there are lights.

Like a heavy winter sleep the long flint cold of the past
Spreads over the glinting dream-blisters of the city, asleep

Or awake, as if the streets were an image of the channels
Of time, with sixty-four, one hundred and twenty-eight,

The ancestral net of thousands only a couple of centuries back,
With its migrations and fortunes and hungers like an image

Of the city where the star-dispelling lights have climbed
And multiplied over the tenements and outlying suburbs

Like a far past of multitudes behind us in the glistering web
Of strands crossing, thousands and tens of thousands

Of lives coupled with their gains, passions, misfortunes.
Somewhere in the tangled alleyways, a rape. Somewhere

A spirit diffused winglike, blindalong the stretched wires
Branching the dark city air or bundled under the streets,

Coursing surely to some one face like an ancient song Do re,
Re la sol sol
. Somewhere diaspora, somewhere

Back here one died of starvation, here one thrived. Descendant,
The bitter city work and the shimmering maternal burden

Of music uncoil outward on the avenues through smoky bars,
By televisions, beyond sleepers while the oblivion of generation

Radiates backward and then forward homeward to the one voice
Or face like an underground pool, through its delicate lightshaft

Moonlit, a cistern of light, echoing in a chamber cellared under
The dark of the city pavement, the faintly glittering slabs.

Meet the Author

A former Poet Laureate of the United States, Robert Pinsky was born and raised in Long Branch, New Jersey. In addition to his books of poetry and The Inferno of Dante, he has written prose works, including The Life of David and The Sounds of Poetry.

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