Poet's Choice

By Robert Pinsky
Sunday, September 18, 2005

One pleasure of poetry is in speed of movement. Another is in the slow curve of the mind in response to that speed: We gradually embrace, in the dreamy slow motion of thought, the meaning of each quick gesture. The word "quick" includes among its meanings the ideas "alive" and "sensitive." And the word "ponder" connotes heaviness. The poem is quick, in all senses, and we enjoy pondering it.

For instance, we may read a poem like William Shakespeare's "The Phoenix and the Turtle" or Frank O'Hara's "In Memory of My Feelings" many times, deliberately relishing at our leisure each tricky phrase or lightning-cut of transition.

A new first book, Jason Schneiderman's Sublimation Point, has the fast thinker's brilliance, where the rapid movement is both funny and, like so much comedy, quick-stepping, a teasing dance of avoidance and engagement with fear -- in this poem, fear of a medical diagnosis:

The Disease Collector

Odd word: culture, as though this swab cared

About art and music, loved the opera,

Saw the Ballet Russe when Nijinsky still bared

His chest, could quote the illuminata

In the original Italian. As though this petri dish

Were a center of learning, and parents wished

For their children to go there, like Harvard or Yale,

As though a positive answer would not pale

My cheeks, or force me to wholly rearrange


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