On-Line Poet Laureate

Robert Pinsky has to be the first on-line poetry editor to be an incoming poet laureate. His berth is on Slate, an electronic magazine for Web browsers. Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, some poems he chooses can be heard from cyberspace as well as read on the computer screen. That's good, because Mr. Pinsky thinks poems live in breath, in the saying and the hearing, more than in the silent reading.

Such an outlook is easy to believe, even when one recites only to oneself a Pinsky skein of words like "... a trickle of television/Leaking from the open window of an apartment..." Or finds in the depths of Dante's "Inferno" - via the celebrated Pinsky version - lines like "... why go back down to such misery? / Why not ascend the delightful mountain, source/And principle that causes every joy?"

The US's new laureate continues to write his own poetry, but he has in mind a populist addition to America's archives of recorded poems. Besides all the readings by poets themselves, he would have American nonpoets, famous and unsung, picking verse they like and reading it for posterity.

Here Pinsky may lock in to a revival of oral poetry that has been kindling the air at colleges, nightclubs, concert halls, and venues like the Boston Public Library in recent years. Some of it's slam poetry, competing for audience approval, if not for laurels like those crowning triumphant poets in ancient days.

Perhaps in an age of much-lamented decline in precision of language, the new poet laureate will build on the work of laureates who preceded him to help us all ascend a delightful mountain.

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