Here, an olive votive keeps the sunset lit, the Korean twenty-somethings talk about hyphens, graduate school, and good pot. A group of four at a window table in Carpinteria discuss the quality of wines in Napa Valley versus Lodi. Here, in my California, the streets remember the Chicano poet whose songs still bank off Fresno’s beer-soaked gutters and almond trees in partial blossom. Here, in my California, we fish out long noodles from the pho with such accuracy you’d think we’d done this before. In Fresno, the bullets tire of themselves and begin to pray five times a day. In […]
ZYZZYVA: In Thousands of Broadways: Dreams and Nightmares of the American Small Town (2009), you write fondly of your dad, a star basketball player, trophy in hand. Is there a game/sport you enjoy playing? Robert Pinsky: In high school I was not bad at the team sports, and as a Stegner Fellow at Stanford I was a standout in Sunday morning softball games, (Not saying much—as tiny a distinction as the Hemingway character’s boxing championship at Princeton.) For years I got great pleasure from tennis, but at some point, writing became the one theater for all my efforts of a […]
American Journal: Fifty Poems for Our Time (120 pages; Graywolf) delivers on its promise of introducing readers to some of our most important contemporary American poets, both well-known and emerging. Moreover, the writers featured in it are a reflection of the diversity of the United States, which is what one would hope for in a collection curated by the current U. S. poet laureate, Tracy K. Smith. In addition to featuring a racially diverse group of writers, there are poems by old and young, female and male, and straight and gay poets (although queerness is not a theme that is […]
With news that Philip Levine is the new Poet Laureate of the United States, we bring to you this poem that ran in the Spring 1991 issue of ZYZZYVA. (At the time, Levine was a professor of English at California State University, Fresno. He now divides his time between Fresno and Brooklyn.)
Focused on a bunch of boys experimenting with booze, as common a rite of adolescence as can be, “Gin” is funny and tender, as it shows the kids puzzling over the merits of drinking. But the poem unsheathes a sharp line at the end. “Any wonder we were trying gin,” Levine writes, after detailing all the travails — personal and political — life will hold for the underage drinkers.