Poet's Choice

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By Robert Pinsky
Sunday, January 13, 2008

One kind of poetry registers the physical world: words arranged to communicate the emotional power of the senses, the feeling of a visible reality. A different kind of poetry concentrates more strikingly on expressiveness: words arranged to create a voice, the feeling of a particular sensibility.

The distinction is approximate, a matter of emphasis. The two categories overlap, strikingly so in the poems of James Schuyler, which are attentive to the evidence of the senses but with a distinctive personality. In "Evening," Schuyler emphasizes what he sees while also reflecting on it in his distinctive way:

The black marble mantelpiece

reflects a green lamp and a white.

Above it, two red candles

and a dish of fruit, painted on velvet.

What bush is that, beside the door

that faces east, that will not loose its leaves?

Snowberry, I guess. And what kind of maple

fights the evening wind to keep some of its leaves?

A few fly by. An electric heater

hums and drowns out the evening wind.


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© 2008 The Washington Post Company

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