Friday, June 03, 2011

`A Whole New Capacity for Thinking and Writing'

“I cannot remember a time when I did not want to read as much as possible. Since my family did not have many books, my main sources were school books, gifts from relatives, and books borrowed from neighbors until I was old enough to check them out of the Butte Public Library, which I did as often and as many as possible.”

The thirst for printed matter and the resulting inability to live without books defies demographics. The speaker of this passage is female and born in Montana in 1928. I was born in Ohio in 1952. But for the place name, I could echo her words in every detail. David Myers asked this week in an email if I thought “the codex is dead.” Without theories I can only answer from experience: I can’t imagine such a thing happening – losing the Bible I was given in 1960, my copy of Taken in Faith: Poems signed by Helen Pinkerton, the Ulysses I’ve read and annotated since 1967 – but that may only betray the limits of my imagination.

The passage quoted above is from an interview with Pinkerton in the Winter 2011 issue of Think Journal. The interviewer is James Matthew Wilson, poet, teacher, author of a fine essay on Pinkerton, and an editor at Front Porch Republic. Think Journal arrived on Thursday in my latest package of gifts from Pinkerton, and with it came:

Samuel Johnson: Selected Latin Poems Translated by Various Hands (1995), a chapbook edited and published by Bob Barth.

Poems in Memory of Yvor Winters on the Centenary of his Birth (2000), another chapbook edited and published by Barth.

A photocopy of “Yvor Winters and Janet Lewis 1929-1932” by Henry C. Ramsey from the Autumn 1989 issue of Sequoia.

A photocopy of Pinkerton’s poem “Metaphysical Song” from the April 2006 issue of First Things.

A photocopy of Pinkerton’s “Coronach for Christopher Drummond” from the June 2003 issue of The New Compass: A Critical Review.

In the email cited above, Myers describes Pinkerton as “one of my favorite poets,” and I easily endorse the sentiment. That we have a master in our midst will surprise dedicated followers of poetic fashion. It’s a bleak time in American letters and probably elsewhere, but good and great work is still being written, almost sub rosa, far from the mills of fashion and promotion. In her Think Journal interview, Pinkerton speaks of the importance of Yvor Winters to her thinking and work, starting almost seventy years ago when she became his student at Stanford University:

“Winters’ level of teaching, the kinds of topics he expected us to write about, the seriousness of his consideration of literary and philosophical questions of all sorts simply brought out in me a whole new capacity for thinking and writing. My temperament, which was already inclined toward critical judgment as essential to the growth of the mind, fell in with his and enabled me to profit immensely from his teaching.”

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