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Robert Pinsky Considers Plainness in Light of Anne Bradstreet

By Harriet Staff

Robert Pinsky looks at the first published female American poet Anne Bradstreet for his most recent Slate column. Initially, Pinsky writes about simplicity: “Sometimes, the most plain surfaces demand mastering the most extreme nuances. In a building or a garment, sometimes ornament and elaboration can conceal imperfect seams. Simplicity can demand perfection.” He then introduces Bradstreet:

Anne Bradstreet (1612-72) was born in England, but lived, married, raised her family, and died in Massachusetts: the first American poet, or certainly the first to write in English. Her work is plain in a way that might tempt some readers to condescension, but she knew the Latin poets and writes fluently within the conventions she chose, reaching considerable intensity of emotion and idea.

And goes on:

Sometimes, her poems enter the interesting zone where plain truth testifies to the strange extremes of life itself. Love, jealousy, dread are transformed by candor and precision in “Before the Birth of One of Her Children.” The poem proceeds from dignified, slightly stiff acknowledgements of the great, generic truths of mortality. The application of those truths to the risks of childbirth in the 17th century gains force from the poet’s quiet, in a way pragmatic manner of dealing with the known and the unknown. And her poem ends with a striking, frank imagination of loss. In 14 well-turned couplets, Bradstreet goes from the general, traditional wisdom of her first line to the immediacy of tears and paper.

Pinsky actually gives voice himself to “Before the Birth of One of Her Children.” Listen to it here.

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Posted in Poetry News on Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012 by Harriet Staff.