Book of the week: Essential Pleasures: A New Anthology of Poems to Read Aloud edited by Robert Pinsky
(Norton, 528 pages plus CD, $29.95)
People who don’t read poetry aloud are depriving themselves of an essential pleasure, says the poet Robert Pinsky. Consider the “tickle of gratification” that a young child feels upon hearing the anonymously authored line “Moses supposes his toeses are roses.” Even before there is confidence in the meaning, there is delight in the sentence’s sound. The art of poetry, like that of dancing or singing, addresses a primal appetite. By reading poetry aloud, you can enjoy “the sounds of words in infinitely varying relation to their meanings.” The practice fast becomes its own reward.
The 284 “marvelous-sounding” poems that Pinsky has gathered in this anthology prove his point, said Isabel Nathaniel in The Dallas Morning News. The former U.S. poet laureate has grouped the poems by type of line and by theme, allowing contemporary writers such as Louise Glück and Billy Collins to commingle with Sappho, Shakespeare, and Byron. Pinsky isn’t the only one teaching Americans the joys of raising their voices in verse, said Marc Bain in Newsweek.com. For the past few years, the National Endowment for the Arts has sponsored a nationwide “recitation competition” for high school students called Poetry Out Loud, which culminates each April in a national champion. The goal is to promote poetry reading by showing that perfoming it can be more fun than reading in silence. Pinsky’s anthology will “make a good reference for any young person,” said Holloway McCandless in Litagogo.com. His decidedly “unstuffy” selections represent a diverse array of poets that’s “expansive without being exhaustive.”
Don’t stop at reading the poems aloud, said Jim Holt in The New York Times. “A few years ago, I started learning poetry by heart on a daily basis.” When you recite a poem from memory, you begin to hear the rhythms in a new way. Merely reading a poem out loud soon comes to seem a lesser experience—like “sight-reading a Beethoven piano sonata.” People may think you’re crazy once the habit takes hold and you’re declaiming Auden during your morning run. But the pleasure of the exercise is undeniable—and inexpensive. Within the covers of Pinsky’s new book or “any decent” anthology, “you have an entire sea to swim in.”