Robert Pinsky’s Shirt

Mather Schneider
3 min readJul 2, 2023
Photo by Nimble Made on Unsplash

When a writer is emotionally uninvolved with his subject matter, I call that “distance”. The stretching of emotional distance de-emphasizes original motivation and emphasizes craft. This is considered by many to be the sign of a master. What the master lacks in emotional intensity he patches up with odds and ends of knowledge and scraps of imagery, snazzily sewn together like a shawl. In his poem “The Shirt” Robert Pinsky produces a poem containing vast empty territories of distance.

The poem begins:

“The back, the yoke, the yardage. Lapped seams

The nearly invisible stitches along the collar

Turned in a sweatshop by Koreans or Malaysians

Gossiping over tea and noodles on their break. . .”

How seamlessly he goes from technically rambling about a shirt to laughing in his cuff about sweatshop workers. I guess he can’t read the tag to find out where it was made. Maybe it doesn’t have a tag. Maybe the workers forgot to attach the tag because they were too busy gossiping.

Next he mentions the “infamous blaze/At the Triangle Factory in nineteen-eleven.”

I assume this was a clothing factory. Is he having visions? He has facts such as “One hundred and forty-six died in the flames”, tragic for the people involved, but what bloodless…



Mather Schneider

Small press burnout. Stories and poetry the best I can. Become a member and help me out: