The poems in Robert Pinsky's At the Foundling Hospital consider personality and culture as improvised from loss: a creative effort so pervasive it is invisible. An extreme example is the abandoned new-born. At the Foundling Hospital of eighteenth century London, in a benign and oddly bureaucratic process, each new infant was identified by a duly recorded token. A minimal, charged particle of meaning, the token might be a coin or brooch or thimble or sometimes a poem, such as the one quoted in full in Pinsky's poem "The Foundling Tokens." A foundling may inherit less of a past than an orphan, but with a wider set of meanings. The foundling soul needs to be adapted, and it needs to be adaptive. In one poem, French and German appear as originally Creole tongues, invented by the rough needs of conquered peoples and their Roman masters. In another, creators from scorned or excluded groups - among them Irving Berlin, Quintus Horatius Flaccus, and W.E.B. Du Bois - speak, as does the Greek tragic chorus, in the first person singular.
In these poems, a sometimes desperate, perpetual reimagining of identity, on the scale of one life or of human history, is deeply related to music: The quest is lyrical, whether the subject is as specific as "the emanation of a dead star still alive" or as personal as the "pinhole iris of your mortal eye."
Robert Pinsky is the author of several books of poetry, including Gulf Music, Jersey Rain, The Want Bone, and The Figured Wheel. His bestselling translation of The Inferno of Dante sets a modern standard. He was the Poet Laureate of the United States from 1997 to 2000. Among his awards and honors are the William Carlos Williams Award, the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize, the PEN/Voelcker Award, the Korean Manhae Prize, and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the PEN American Center. He teaches in the graduate creative writing program at Boston University.