The Want Bone

The Want Bone

by Robert Pinsky

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The Want Bone, "It’s largely about making, which is also destroying. Civilization in all of its horror and ugliness and its beauty consists of, you know, it’s really all the work of Shiva, the Hindu god with the hammer who makes and breaks any artifact you look at."
-- Former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky  See more details below


The Want Bone, "It’s largely about making, which is also destroying. Civilization in all of its horror and ugliness and its beauty consists of, you know, it’s really all the work of Shiva, the Hindu god with the hammer who makes and breaks any artifact you look at."
-- Former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Most lyric poetry turns and tumbles in the bittersweet pathos of desire; the human heart and its fantasies have been Pinsky's subject for many years. His last book, History of My Heart, tried to locate the source of desire in autobiography. The new volume, a kind of sequel, largely avoids personal subject matter in order to explore the manifestations of desire in religious and mythological stories, from those of the Hindu gods Shiva and Parvati to Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar and--in a stunning prose piece, "Jesus and Isolt''--the fabled lovers Tristram and Isolt. One could call his subject desire in the abstract; the poet addresses "The old conspiracy of gain and pleasure / Flowering in the mind greedily to build the world / And break it.'' His writing is lush as Pinsky tries to remove himself from the Augustan mode of his earlier work--sentences sprawl over tercets and shift direction suddenly. This may be his best book; it is certainly his best collection of lyric poetry.
Library Journal
The elegantly crafted poems in Pinsky's accomplished fourth collection take as their theme the quenchless desires of the heart, "the legendary muscle that wants and grieves,/ the organ of attachment, the pump of thrills/ and troubles.'' In full command of his art and vision, Pinsky uses religion and myth to explore the connection between language and being and the often tragic dimensions of human want. His poetry has a magisterial, chill beauty that ironically accentuates the vast hunger of need in us all. Like the "muttering gods'' who in one poem "drink up/lovecries and memorized Chaucer, lines from movies/ and songs hoarded in mortmain,'' Pinsky draws from a tremendous store of language, both common and erudite. Here is a poet unafraid to probe uncomfortable recesses of experience, or risk thinking large. Recommended for poetry collections.-- Christine Stenstrom, New York Law School Library.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
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6.12(w) x 9.25(h) x 0.23(d)

Read an Excerpt

From the Childhood of Jesus

One Saturday morning he went to the river to play.
He modeled twelve sparrows out of the river clay

And scooped a clear pond, with a dam of twigs and mud.
Around the pond he set the birds he had made,

Evenly as the hours. Jesus was five. He smiled,
As a child would who had made a little world

Of clear still water and clay beside a river.
But a certain Jew came by, a friend of his father,

And he scolded the child and ran at once to Joseph,
Saying, "Come see how your child has profaned the Sabbath,

Making images at the river on the Day of Rest."
So Joseph came to the place and took his wrist

And told him, "Child, you have offended the Word."
Then Jesus freed the hand that Joseph held

And clapped his hands and shouted to the birds
To go away. They raised their beaks at his words

And breathed and stirred their feathers and flew away.
The people were frightened. Meanwhile, another boy,

The son of Annas the scribe, had idly taken
A branch of driftwood and leaning against it had broken

The dam and muddied the little pond and scattered
The twigs and stones. Then Jesus was angry and shouted,

"Unrighteous, impious, ignorant, what did the water
Do to harm you? Now you are going to wither

The way a tree does, you shall bear no fruit And no leaves, you shall wither down to the root."

At once, the boy was all withered. His parents moaned,
The Jews gasped, Jesus began to leave, then turned

And prophesied, his child's face wet with tears:
"Twelve times twelve timestwelve thousands of years

Before these heavens and this earth were made,
The Creator set a jewel in the throne of God

With Hell on the left and Heaven to the right,
The Sanctuary in front, and behind, an endless night

Endlessly fleeing a Torah written in flame. And on that jewel in the throne, God wrote my name."

Then Jesus left and went into Joseph's house.
The family of the withered one also left the place,

Carrying him home. The Sabbath was nearly over. By dusk, the Jews were all gone from the river.

Small creatures came from the undergrowth to drink And foraged in the shadows along the bank.

Alone in his cot in Joseph's house, the Son
Of Man was crying himself to sleep. The moon

Rose higher, the Jews put out their lights and slept,
And all was calm and as it had been, except

In the agitated household of the scribe Annas,
And high in the dark, where unknown even to Jesus

The twelve new sparrows flew aimlessly through the night,
Not blinking or resting, as if never to alight.

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Meet the Author

Robert Pinsky was born on October 20, 1940 in Long Branch, New Jersey. He received a B.A. from Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, and earned both an M.A. and Ph.D. in Philosophy from Stanford University, where he was a Stegner Fellow in creative writing, and studied under the poet and critic Yvor Winters .

He is the author of several collections of poetry, most recently Gulf Music: Poems; Jersey Rain (2000); The Figured Wheel: New and Collected Poems 1966-1996 (1996), which received the 1997 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize and was a Pulitzer Prize nominee; The Want Bone (1990); History of My Heart (1984); An Explanation of America (1980); and Sadness and Happiness (1975).

He is also the author of several prose titles, including The Life of David; Democracy, Culture, and the Voice of Poetry (2002); The Sounds of Poetry (1998), which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; Poetry and the World (1988); and The Situation of Poetry (1977). In 1985 he also released a computerized novel, Mindwheel.

Pinsky has published two acclaimed works of traslation: The Inferno of Dante (1994), which was a Book-of-the-Month-Club Editor's Choice, and received both the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the Harold Morton Landon Translation Award ; and The Separate Notebooks by Czeslaw Milosz (with Renata Gorczynski and Robert Hass ).

About his work, the poet Louise Glück has said, "Robert Pinsky has what I think Shakespeare must have had: dexterity combined with worldliness, the magician's dazzling quickness fused with subtle intelligence, a taste for tasks and assignments to which he devises ingenious solutions."

From 1997 to 2000, he served as the United States Poet Laureate and Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. During that time, he founded the Favorite Poem Project, a program dedicated to celebrating, documenting and encouraging poetry's role in Americans' lives.

In 1999, he co-edited Americans' Favorite Poems: The Favorite Poem Project Anthology with Maggie Dietz. Other anthologies he has edited include An Invitation to Poetry (W. W. Norton & Company, 2004); Poems to Read (2002); and Handbook of Heartbreak (1998).

His honors include an American Academy of Arts and Letters award, both the William Carlos Williams Award and the Shelley Memorial prize from the Poetry Society of America, the PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry, and a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship. He is currently poetry editor of the weekly Internet magazine Slate .

Pinsky has taught at both Wellesley College and the University of California, Berkeley, and currently teaches in the graduate writing program at Boston University. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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