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Baby we were born to write villanelles

May 13, 2010 |  7:01 am

Last week, Bruce Springsteen appeared with former U.S. poet laureate Robert Pinsky at Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey. For more than two hours, the two performed together, Springsteen reciting some of Pinksy's poetry, and Pinsky, at one point, singing backup for The Boss.

The two share a New Jersey heritage -- in fact, they were born in the same hospital, in Long Branch, nine years apart. The event, the Star-Ledger reported, moved seamlessly between the work of the two artists, showcasing their commonalities.

We went looking for some; below, some opening lines from Pinksy and from Springsteen.

"Glory Days" by Bruce Springsteen

I had a friend was a big baseball player
Back in high school
He could throw that speedball by you
Make you look like a fool boy
Saw him the other night at this roadside bar
I was walking in, he was walking out
We went back inside sat down had a few drinks
But all he kept talking about was

Glory days well they'll pass you by
Glory days in the wink of a young girl's eye
Glory days, glory days....

And this:  "Glory" by Robert Pinsky

Pindar, poet of the victories, fitted names
And legends into verses for the chorus to sing:
Names recalled now only in the poems of Pindar:

O nearly unpronounceable immortals,
In the dash, Oionos was champion:
Oionos, Likmynios's son, who came from Midea.
In wrestling, Echemos won—the name
Of his home city, Tegea, proclaimed to the crowds.
Doryklos of Tiryns won the prize in boxing,
And the record for a four-horse team was set
By Samos from Mantinea, Halirothios's son....

"Jungleland" by Bruce Springsteen

The rangers had a homecoming in Harlem late last night
And the magic rat drove his sleek machine over the Jersey state line
Barefoot girl sitting on the hood of a Dodge
Drinking warm beer in the soft summer rain
The rat pulls into town rolls up his pants
Together they take a stab at romance and disappear down Flamingo Lane

Well the maximum lawman run down Flamingo chasing the rat and the barefoot girl
And the kids round here look just like shadows always quiet, holding hands
From the churches to the jails tonight all is silence in the world
As we take our stand down in Jungleland...

Compared to "City Elegies" by Robert Pinksy

All day all over the city every person
Wanders a different city, sealed intact
And haunted as the abandoned subway stations
Under the city. Where is my alley doorway?

Stone gable, brick escarpment, cliffs of crystal.
Where is my terraced street above the harbor,
Café and hidden workshop, house of love?
Webbed vault, tiled blackness. Where is my park, the path...

And one more: "Born in the U.S.A." by Bruce Springsteen

Born down in a dead man's town
The first kick I took was when I hit the ground
You end up like a dog that's been beat too much
'Til you spend half your life just covering up

[chorus:] Born in the U.S.A.
Born in the U.S.A.
Born in the U.S.A.
Born in the U.S.A....

Alongside an excerpt from "An Explanation of America: Love and Death" by Robert Pinsky

Imagine a child from Virginia or New Hampshire
Alone on the prairie eighty years ago
Or more, one afternoon—the shaggy pelt
Of grasses, for the first time in that child’s life,
Flowing for miles. Imagine the moving shadow
Of a cloud far off across that shadeless ocean,
The obliterating strangeness like a tide
That pulls or empties the bubble of the child’s
Imaginary heart. No hills, no trees.

The child’s heart lightens, tending like a bubble
Towards the currents of the grass and sky,
The pure potential of the clear blank spaces....

"I was going to be a writer, and he was going to be a musician,” Springsteen at the event. "These are our fallback positions." Seems like each ended up exactly where he belonged.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Bruce Springsteen and Robert Pinsky at Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey, May 6. Credit: Mel Evans / Associated Press