Robert Pinsky, Ginza Samba

July 24, 2013

For years I hadn’t gone much beyond his translation of the Inferno.  I’d noticed a couple of things I didn’t like (might even have gone looking for them), and just stopped there, his own poetry getting all tangled up in that.

So it took me a very long time to get to “Ginza Samba.”  It took me even longer to come upon the information that, yes, he’s an “ex-saxophonist” (whatever that means), with hands-on knowledge of the instrument that, he claims, was invented by a “monosyllabic European called Sax.”

The shock effect of that line is probably going to be greater than any belated discovery I make on my own.  And maybe that’s the point of the poem, that being belated is both far more common and far less of an issue than we might think, since it’s probably the only available option — the only available existential condition — for everyone at this point.   After all, who among us can say we were there from the first, at the pristine starting point of that “unfathomable matrix of fathers and mothers,” featuring the monosyllabic European,  as well as “pearls and ivory, calico and slaves,” Hawks and Birds descended from the Seminoles, not to mention relatives of the Czar and Pushkin?

Impossible to sort out this tangle,  especially since the music, on its way from “Rio to Tokyo and back again,”  is always one step ahead of us, creating more.

About wcd2

Professor of English and American Studies
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