Poetry in Person is a rare gem that could easily be overlooked.  Alexander Neubauer has carefully edited together old school cassette tape recordings of in-classroom conversations between the legendary Pearl London and a long list of poetry super-stars.  Just some of these poets include: Robert Pinksy, Lucille Clifton, Edward Hirsch, and Muriel Rukeyser.

Poetry in Person is next-level stuff, all recorded from the famous seminar that Pearl London taught at the New School in Greenwich village, circa 1973 to 1998. I’ve taken some quick notes from the initial chapter, to give you a quick sampling of this audio delight.


[ On the Practice of Writing ]

Pearl London, introducing Robert Pinsky, asks him to follow up on his declaration in “Responsibilities of a Poet” (1987):

“What a poet must answer for is

the un-poetic.”

She alludes to W.H. Auden’s saying that the contemporary poet must confront the painful, the problematic, and the ugly. Pinksy answers:

We are all attracted to this art because of cliches that we’re exposed to when we are young.

In other words, while the mature poet is always aching to avoid cliches, it is the ordinary, and the ordinary attractions that we need to be attuned to in our practice.  Poetry should not be a thing we’ve deemed poetic from our landscapes.  According to Pinksy, exactly what we find our selves thinking about all day is that which we must attend to.

This sounds to me a great deal like C.S. Lewis on Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer.  The lines between what prayer is and what poetry is has always been blurred to me:

“It is no use to ask God with factitious earnestness for A when our whole mind is in reality filled with the desire for B. We must lay before Him what is in us, not what ought to be in us.” 

[ A Minority Art ]

The same way Jazz used to be a mass-art, poetry is now a minority art that feeds and inspires the other arts with ideas. Pinsky declares:

“Clearly this is a minority art…It’s success is not measured in large numbers…It’s excellence has to do with feeding the other arts.”

[ Identifying ]


“Eloquence is not the same as poetry.

The way you know this is a poem, is you can feel that part of you that

wants to memorize it, or wants to say it over again, because the words are going right.” 

[ A Trailer ]

Here is a quick intro from Alexander Neubauer – to whet your appetite:

2 thoughts on “What the Poet Must Answer for is the Un-Poetic

  1. I love how the stars in your web page cover pic morph into little hearts when it gets enlarged.

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