Essential Pleasures: Introduction
To my hearing, the energy of the sentence reaches hard across the rhyme of "I lived on air" in a gesture of yearning. In contrast, the sentence and line agree on a pause after "I could bear." The full stop after "dusk" on a question makes an interesting counterpoint to the questioning hesitation where the sentence spills past "was it musk." It is nearly impossible to describe these nuances of movement and pause, tracing the dance between meaning and form—but reading Frost's sentence aloud, listening to the rhymes as they mark hesitation or eagerness: that is the idea.
The second section of the anthology presents examples of a quite different kind of line, the extended, compendious or fountain energy of a line like that of Walt Whitman or Christopher Smart, or Allen Ginsberg's "A Supermarket in California" (p. 70):
What thoughts I have of you tonight, Walt Whitman, for I
walked down the streets under the trees with a headache
self-conscious looking at the full moon.
The moon, the self-consciousness, the streets and trees charge through the capacious, unifying rhythm of the line with a hard-driving purpose as well as abundance. These extremes in kind of line demonstrate the varying nature of lines—that each one is different—and the fluent nature of poetry itself.
Because the term "ballad" suggests both a kind of line and a kind of subject matter or tone, the third section makes a transition from formal ways of thinking and hearing to a more thematic approach. The ballad stanza is associated with actual musical patterns and with certain kinds of material: sensational narratives, elliptically presented, often with dialogue and rapid shifts of scene. Because ballads are songs or songlike, and often involve refrains, this section includes regular, audible repetition: sometimes abbreviated with an "etc." in printed books, but vital in the hearing of the poem.
The subsequent, more thematic sections—love poems, stories, and such—I intend to be casual and loose groupings. Most poems could fit into more than one of the headings, which are meant to be interesting, not absolute. For example, William Cowper's "Epitaph on a Hare" (p. 130) is a ballad and a love poem and a celebration that tells a story. It is also funny. The organization into parts tries to celebrate the variety and depth of poetry, with a structure that is informal but thoughtful.
I have worked to make a collection of poems attractive for the reader to say aloud, or to imagine saying aloud. Th e book is not a selection of my favorite poems, and certainly not an attempt to construct and fortify a "canon." Time punishes rigid, would-be-authoritative lists of that kind—not that all anthologies do not, sooner or later, become dated. Humbled by that fact, an anthologist (the root of the word has to do with gathering flowers) can gladly include familiar perennials such as "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere." I have also worked hard to come up with good poems that will be new to most readers. My one strict rule is that everything here—even if it is also a visually shaped poem, or a prose poem—conveys the vocal feeling of poetry: an art as urgent and various as the human voice itself, encompassing all that a voice can express.
Excerpted from Essential Pleasures edited by Robert Pinsky Copyright © 2009 by Robert Pinsky with permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.