Robert Pinsky was born in 1940 in Long Branch, New Jersey and began his performance career as a musician—a saxophone player. He studied English literature at Rutgers University and earned his Ph.D. at Stanford University as a Wallace Stegner Fellow. He taught at the University of Chicago, Wellesley College and the University of California at Berkeley, and is now a professor of English at Boston University. He served an unprecedented three terms as U.S. Poet Laureate and is poetry editor for Slate.
Pinsky as Poet:
Pinsky’s poems have often had an aspect of public commentary, evident in the title of his book-length poem, An Explanation of America (1980), and his work often weaves links between individual lives and the larger currents of history and popular culture, as in his most famous poem, “Shirt,” which connects the threads of the created object with all the people involved in its making and brings to the surface of its fabric a detailed reimagining of the infamous Triangle Shirt Factory fire in 1911.
Pinsky as Critic:
Pinsky published essays in literary criticism (Landor’s Poetry, 1968) before his first collection of poems (Sadness and Happiness, 1975), and throughout his career he has produced works of criticism and cultural analysis: The Situation of Poetry (1977), Poetry and the World (1988), The Sounds of Poetry (1998), Democracy, Culture and the Voice of Poetry (2005).
Pinsky as Translator:
Pinsky has worked on translations from both Renaissance Italian and Polish into English. With Renata Gorczynski and Robert Hass, he was co-translator of The Separate Notebooks, poems by Nobel Prize winner Czeslaw Milosz in 1986. His verse translation of The Inferno of Dante was rightly applauded and admired when it was published in 1996.
The Favorite Poem Project:
Pinsky’s focus during his tenure as U.S. Poet Laureate was The Favorite Poem Project, “dedicated to celebrating, documenting and promoting poetry’s role in Americans’ lives” by gathering readings of ordinary Americans’ most beloved poems and putting them out into the world in books, videos and community readings. The Favorite Poem Project has resulted in the publication of three book anthologies and a DVD, a series of 50 short videos of people reading and talking about their favorite poems, lesson plans and other materials for teachers, and a guide for local reading organizers.
Books by Robert Pinsky:
- First Things To Hand (poems, Quarternote Chapbook Series from Sarabande Books, forthcoming 2006)
- Democracy, Culture and the Voice of Poetry (reprinted Tanner lecture, Princeton University Press, 2005)
- Jersey Rain (poems, Farrar Straus & Giroux, 2000)
- The Sounds of Poetry: A Brief Guide (poetics primer, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1998)
- The Inferno of Dante: A New Verse Translation (unabridged audiobook, read by John Cleese, Audio Literature, 1997)
- The Figured Wheel, New and Collected Poems 1966 - 1996 (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1996)
- The Inferno of Dante: A New Verse Translation (bilingual edition, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1996)
- Poetry and the World (essays, first published by Ecco Press, 1988, reprint edition by HarperCollins, 1991]
- History of My Heart (poems, first published by Ecco Press, 1984, reprint edition by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1998)