Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Pinsky & Me, An Adventure Waiting to Happen

I have this strange, surreal connection to arguably the most important American poet currently working and writing, Robert Pinsky. People unfamiliar with his work most likely know him best as That Guy who was on The Simpsons in the one episode where obnoxious goody-goody Lisa Simpson pretends she's a college student and attends one of his readings. Animated Pinsky, all yellow and austere, spouts off some of his work and the audience swoons. His public persona doesn't even stop with his guest appearance on The Simpsons (itself a high honor): he's been on the Stephen Colbert show, he's worked for, he's done tons of radio interviews and seminars on poetry and he's a professor of creative writing at some bullshit school in the most lame Metropolitan Area in America, Boston (don't worry Miami, you're still #2). He's even the former Poet Laureate of the United States, which may or may not be impressive since this country hates anything complex or intricate or full of big words. Our current Poet Laureate apparently doesn't wash himself and is legally married to his sister ... but he's never been on an animated program so he's not relevant to anyone.

Mr. Pinsky and I have had two noted near run-ins within this past year alone, and should there be a third, he can fully expect to be physically tackled by me and forced to go on a weekend-long bender (and no, I'm not above tackling seventy-year-olds). Sure, the man can channel the soul of Bashō and name drop über-obscure Fulke Greville, but what about a massive borderline illegal descent into madness and excess?

My fascination with Pinsky's body of work started, of all times, when my father - not exactly big on anything poetic written after Tennyson ("a real man's man," quoth Dad) - gave me a scribbled copy of "Samurai Song" on notebook paper (that he copied when he was in Barnes and Noble) back in 2001 and instructed me to "retype it and print it out so I could paste it into my locker at work." Before I even turned on my computer, I made a special point to really and truly examine the piece he was handing me. Normally my father only makes me type up complaint letters to Green Giant grousing about the "shit-awful broccoli" in their frozen veggie packs, but this poem - surely one of the great poems of the 21st century (mark it, historians!) - is so beautiful and simple it made me get choked up inside. It says so very much about self-sufficiency and independence, about dealing with loss and making the most out of a situation. It is, in its own way, infuriatingly perfect and beautiful. In awe, I decided to track down all of Pinsky's collected works and tore through them. Few of his works match the directness of "Samurai Song" and most are more heady-intellectualism than deep-feeling poetry (i.e., they're the product of years spent sheltered in academic circles instead of years of yearning and suffering and starving hysterically naked), but the man's still produced an impressive collection over his years on Earth.

Cut to this past year, when I was ready and prepared to take filmmaking classes at the aforementioned bullshit school in the most lame Metropolitan Area in America. My main goal, within the first couple of days there, was to find Pinsky and shake his hand and thank him profusely for his poems ... but specifically, "Samurai Song." Alas, he was unavailable. I trolled through the building they house him in, and asked around as to his whereabouts. He wasn't in an office, he wasn't in class, he probably wasn't even in town. To be Pinsky means to be in high demand. I requested the dummy undergraduates doing work study (read: sitting on their hands) to help me find him. They made phone calls, shrugged a lot and told me to return the next day. And when I returned the next day, they still couldn't locate him and told me to try back the following week. Due to issues with the horrifically inept financial aid office I booked out of the school as quickly as possible, belongings in hand, and never did stop back to claw at his (closed, locked) office door.

As luck would have it, I enrolled in a creative writing program at yet another school a few months after this debacle and was told (who'd have thunk it!) that none other than Prof. Pinsky would be there to do a presentation of his poems. Egad, I thought: here he is again! I had both my video camera and my still camera ready and on my person: who knew I'd have yet another opportunity to at least 'see' (if not necessarily meet) this slippery poet. But the following day - a Saturday - I was told by one of the heads of the creative writing 'program' - a man who looks like Oddjob from Goldfinger and who has more of a passion for popcorn chicken than prose - that Pinsky wouldn't be making it; he canceled because of either (a.) weather concerns (it was snowing like a mother wherever the poet was at) or (b.) he found out I was there and didn't want my foul, critical spirit infecting his innocuous cloud of postmodern splendor. Hopes dashed and dreams shattered, I started feeling resentful. Pinsky 2, Matt 0. He was dodging me. I don't like being dodged.

I sent Mr. Pinsky an e-mail explaining our near-encounters and how I just wanted to thank him for writing such a goddamn beautiful poem and how I, like wide-eyed Lisa Simpson, desperately needed to hear him lecture on something ... anything. He could talk about getting a grease-and-oil change for his car or how he dislikes wool sweaters. How he once bought a microwave from Wal-Mart. Anything. But a week later, I received no written e-mail response. Mr. Pinsky could not even acknowledge my adoration with a quick text response. Not a "ROFL" or "TTYL." I would have even accepted a copy-and-pasted canned response along the lines of "Sorry I can't write you a personal note, but I'm a genius and you're a dipshit."

So that's it, I told myself, I'm going to create a super-deluxe plan for our (eventual) third encounter. There will be no three strikes against me by the same artist ... I simply will not have it. I started planning the Dream Weekend I will spend with R.P. ... a weekend to knock the preening pretentiousness from his psyche, to shake the academia out of him. So here's what I came up with so far: I'll sneak up to the Pinsky on his way to work one Friday morning and I will kidnap his lanky ass and drive him way the hell back to my neighborhood. On the long drive home, I will have an experienced hypnotist put Pinsky into a trance to allow Pinsky to follow my orders without question (brainwashing never hurt anybody, really).

After a nice, casual dinner of sushi (and more brainwashing), the festivities will begin: we'll drive to a dive bar in the seedier part of the doldrums I live in and we'll both spend several hours there, shaking off the local prostitutes and pimps to drink 18 straight whiskeys ... the same number that did in Dylan Thomas. While drinking the whiskeys, we can empty pack after pack of Nat Sherman MCDs, which I will charge to Pinsky's expense account. The bartender, who knows me by name, will ask me who the glazed-over stiff I'm hanging out with is, and I'll tell the bartender he's my new friend, and he's a carpet salesman (because that's a lot more honorable and realistic). I'll nudge the Pinsk-ster to go along.

Following the whiskeys, we will then go shooting. Nothing sobers one up like heavy artillery. Pinsky was never in the military, and neither was I, but Heinrich von Kleist was. We'll show Kleist a thing or two about aggression by firing off several semi-automatic shotgun rounds in the woods, hoping we knock out a couple of deer and/or the windows of houses. The whiskeys, still running through our blood streams, will empower us as Americans ... and being an American means having a love affair with guns. Unlike Kleist and Madame Vogel, however, Pinsky and I will not shoot each other: the bullets are strictly reserved for objects that need exploding. When the police show up (as they inevitably do), we will bolt for the car and then drive to a safe-haven for a few hours. Hopefully the cops won't have identified my car or license plate (no doubt both on file already).

After hiding away for a while until the coast is clear, Pinsky and I will get a heavy breakfast somewhere to help sober up. We'll share several pots of coffee and, on the back of the place mat, scribble out revolutionary poems together - the kind of incendiary, heavily-political tomes that Brecht would smile upon ... the kind if, when published, would cause people to riot in the streets. We'll leave the restaurant once fully sobered up and then head to our next location: the boxing gym.

Nothing brings real men together like a little fisticuffs. Surely this would please Papa Hemingway and Ezra Pound: Pinsky and I will put on the gloves and start wailing on each other. I'll take a few swings at his temples solely to knock out the preening austerity found so often in The Want Bone, and maybe get a gut shot in there for his denouncing Shakespeare's sonnets as "over-rated." "The Bard will still be read in one thousand years, you ass," I'll shout, "but Gulf Music will have long since been turned to ash." And then I'll make sure to get a few swings in at his writing arm, so the black and blues ache when he raises his Cross pen to write anything. Pinsky needs to be consistently reminded about physical agony.

A little fun needs to follow our strenuous boxing match. We'll swallow several dozen pain pills (in honor of Lord Byron) and then go to Chuck E. Cheese or Bounce U (the good professor can choose) and intentionally crash a children's birthday party. Pinsky, a little weary but still cogent, can sneak us into the place with a soothing ode to Hart Crane and/or a parable about finding one's way through life with the aid of meditation. There, we will be on a mission not only to see who can make the most number of children cry in terror by both screaming lines from Artaud at them and mashing birthday cake in their faces: first one of us to get into an actual fist-fight with an irate parent wins the game! As we run out of the building, I imagine a thrilled and fevered Pinsky kissing one of the staff workers on the cheek, telling the worker that fortune will be his means.

We will cap off that night with more drinks and more cigarettes, and I will probably try to slip some sort of opium derivative in Pinsky's beverage, which is what Coleridge would have done to himself. We will flip a coin and let the fates decide what next to do: heads, rob a liquor store (in honor of Bukowski) or tails, steal a car (to remind Pinsky of Rimbaud's lament that every poet is a thief). Should we rob a liquor store (and successfully escape), I will make sure to drink my winnings; if we steal a car, I will aim to nab a Mercedes Benz.

Regardless of what the coin decides, I promise to get Mr. Pinsky back to his home in good time and relatively good health, even though he may be frothing at the mouth and/or nearly-ruined by fear and madness. When the poet sobers up at his house (after I throw him into his front yard) and the hypnosis and all those chemicals he ingested eventually wear off and he can finally, finally return to his actual office he's rarely ever inside of in the first place, I know - just know - that his own writings and his own teaching style will be greatly affected - for the better! - by our Weekend Adventure. The almost constant brushes with the police, the physical beatings and the cruel Soviet-style brainwashing will only heighten his already impressive talents. Audacity will become his roof. And I hope - no, I pray, to the heavens, to the celestial night - that he will be cautious to never, ever - in the future - dodge adoring fans either consciously or unconsciously again.

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