Robert Pinsky

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Robert Pinsky

Robert Pinsky (b. 1940), at a 2005 event.
Born: 20 October 1940.
Long Branch, New Jersey (USA)
Occupation: poet, literary critic, editor, academic
Nationality: American
Writing period: 1968-present
Genres: poetry, literary criticism.
Influences: Samuel Taylor Coleridge,
Matthew Arnold,
T. S. Eliot,
W. H. Auden
Influenced: (other writers who were influenced by his/her work)

Robert Pinsky (born October 20, 1940) is a leading American poet, essayist, literary critic, and translator. From 1997 – 2000, he served as Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress (popularly known as the Poet Laureate of the United States). Pinsky is the author of nineteen books, most of which are collections of his own poetry. His published work also includes critically acclaimed translations, including a collection of poems by Czeslaw Milosz and Dante's Inferno, The Inferno of Dante (1994), which won the Los Angeles Times' Book Award in Poetry and the Academy of American Poets' Translation Award and was a Book-of-the-Month-Club Editor's Choice.

Pinsky has become a figure within popular culture through a satirical guest-starring role in a 2002 episode of the animated sitcom, The Simpsons entitled Little Girl in the Big Ten. Pinsky appeared on The Colbert Report in April, 2007 as the judge of a "Meta-Free-Phor-All" between Stephen Colbert and Sean Penn.


  • 1 Biography
  • 2 Criticism
  • 3 Achievements
    • 3.1 Published works
    • 3.2 Honours and awards
  • 4 Notes and references
    • 4.1 Notes and citations
    • 4.2 Books and printed materials
    • 4.3 Online Resources
  • 5 External links


After graduating from Long Branch High School, he earned a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) from Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey and a Master of Arts (M.A.) and Doctor of Philosophy (Ph. D.) from Stanford University. During his years at Rutgers, Pinsky was involved in the school's literary journal, The Anthologist. At Stanford, where he held a Stegner Fellowship in creative writing, Pinsky studied under the noted poet and critic Yvor Winters. His classmates included the poets Robert Hass and John Matthias. After graduating, he taught at Wellesley College and the University of California, Berkeley before being appointed to the faculty of Boston University. He is currently poetry editor of the Internet magazine Slate.

Early on, Pinsky was inspired by the flow and tension of jazz and the excitement that it made him feel. He said it was an incredible experience that he has tried to reproduce in his poetry. The musicality of poetry was and is extremely important to his work. (

Pinsky teaches in the graduate writing program at Boston University, and in 1997 was named the United States Poet Laureate and Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. He now lives in Newton Corner, Massachusetts.

As Poet Laureate, Robert Pinsky became a public ambassador for poetry, founding the Favorite Poem Project, in which thousands of Americans of varying backgrounds, all ages, and from every state share their favorite poems. Pinsky believed that, contrary to stereotype, poetry has a strong presence in the American cultural. The project sought to document that presence, giving voice to the American audience for poetry.

Pinsky's collection of essays, Landor's Poetry was published in 1968 and followed by other essay collections, including The Situation of Poetry (1977) and Poetry and the World (1988), which was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award in Criticism. He received a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship in 1974 and in 1975 published his collection of poems, Sadness and Happiness. It contains both long and short poems but is noted in particular for the seventeen-page "Essay on Psychiatrists." Offering a variety of literary and cultural references, the poem is said to typify Pinsky's use of discursive poetic forms. Similarly, in the book-length poem An Explanation of America, one of his most ambitious and admired works, the poet teaches his daughter about the past so that she may shape her future. The title poem in History of My Heart is an autobiographical narrative on memory and desire that draws on many of Pinsky's childhood, adolescent, and adult experiences. In The Want Bone" he employs, "a pastiche technique characterized by overt word play in order to symbolize and examine the lust for life and the desire for sensual experience. The volume includes mock biblical stories on the childhood of Jesus and an extended prose section in which Jesus, in disguise, enters the story of Tristan and Isolde in order to learn about love."

Poetry collections: An Explanation of America (1980) which won the Saxifrage Prize; History of My Heart (1984), awarded the William Carlos Williams Award of the Poetry Society of America; The Want Bone (1990); and, The Figured Wheel: New and Collected Poems 1966-1996 which was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry, and was awarded the Ambassador Book Award in Poetry of the English Speaking Union and the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize.

Pinsky is also the author of the interactive fiction game Mindwheel (1984) developed by Synapse and released by Broderbund. He is known for his innovative, personal style, and his use of contemporary themes. Pinsky is a professor at Boston University, where he teaches in the graduate creative writing program.


Pinsky is often praised for "his grasp of traditional metrical forms and his ability to evoke timeless meaning within the strictures of contemporary idioms." Critics applaud, "his ability to imbue simple images—a Brownie troop square dance, cold weather, the music of Fats Waller—with underlying meaning to create order out of the accidental events people encounter in their lives." Commentators admire Pinsky's, "ambitiousness, his juxtaposition of the personal with the universal, the present with the past, the simple with the complex, and it has been noted that his intellectual style presents challenges to readers, obliging them to unravel the complexity behind the clarity of language and imagery."

About Robert Pinsky's first book of poems Robert Lowell wrote, "It is refreshing to find a poet who is intellectually interesting and technically first-rate. Robert Pinsky belongs to that rarest category of talent, a poet-critic." Writing in the Times Literary Supplement, William Pritchard called "Sadness and Happiness", "the best work by any younger poet within recent memory." Louis Martz wrote of Pinsky "the most exhilarating new poet that I have read since A. R. Ammons entered upon the scene. In his peculiar and original combination of abstract utterance and vivid image Pinsky points the way toward the future of poetry." "The Inferno of Dante" has been celebrated by Stephen Greenblatt as, "the premier modern text for English-language readers to experience Dante's power." Hugh Kenner has described Pinsky's ambition as "nothing less than the recovery for language of a whole domain of mute and familiar experience," (, 2). “In his poems Pinsky talks, with democratic warmth and intimacy, to the common things of this world. His extraordinary poems remind us that he has always embodied the very ideal he proposes for what a poet can do,” (Lloyd Schwarz, The Boston Phoenix). “Among the many writers who have come of age in our fin de siècle, none has succeeded more completely as a poet, critic and translator than Robert Pinsky,” (James Longenbach, The Nation). (, 2)

"Robert Pinsky's poetry is noted for its combination of vivid imagery and clear, discursive language that explores such themes as truth, the history of nations and individuals, and the transcendent aspects of simple acts. Pinsky strives to create an organized view of the world, often confronting and trying to explain the past to bring order to the present. Recurring subjects in his work include the Holocaust, religion, and childhood. Pinsky's moral tone and mastery of poetic meter often are compared to eighteenth- and nineteenth-century English poets, and the insights conveyed in his analytical works on poetry have led critics to place him in the tradition of other poet-critics such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Matthew Arnold, T. S. Eliot, and W. H. Auden."


Published works

  • Gulf Music (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux: 2007). ISBN
  • First Things to Hand (2006). ISBN
  • The Life of David (2005). ISBN
  • An Invitation to Poetry (2004). ISBN
  • Poems to Read (2002). ISBN
  • Democracy, Culture, and the Voice of Poetry (2002). ISBN
  • Jersey Rain (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux: 2000). ISBN
  • Americans' Favorite Poems (1999). ISBN
  • The Sounds of Poetry (1998). ISBN
  • The Handbook of Heartbreak (1998). ISBN
  • The Inferno of Dante: A New Verse Translation (1995). ISBN
  • The Figured Wheel: New and Collected Poems 1966-1996 (1995). ISBN
  • The Want Bone (1990). ISBN
  • Poetry and the World (1988). ISBN
  • History Of My Heart (1984). ISBN
  • The Separate Notebooks, Poems by Czeslaw Milosz (1984). ISBN
  • An Explanation of America (1980). ISBN
  • The Situation of Poetry (1977). ISBN
  • Sadness and Happiness (1975). ISBN
  • Landor's Poetry (1968). ISBN

Honours and awards

  • Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress (1997-2000)
  • National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship (1974)
  • Stegner Fellowship in Creative Writing at Stanford University
  • Saxifrage Prize (1980) for An Explanation of America
  • William Carlos Williams Award of the Poetry Society of America
  • Nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism (1988) for Poetry and the World
  • Nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry (1996) for The Figured Wheel: New and Collected Poems, 1966-1996
  • Ambassador Book Award in Poetry of the English Speaking Union
  • Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize (1997) for The Figured Wheel: New and Collected Poems 1966-1996
  • Los Angeles Times Book Award (1994) for The Inferno of Dante
  • Book-of-the-Month Editor's Choice (1994) for The Inferno of Dante
  • Academy of American Poets' Translation Award (1994) for The Inferno of Dante

Notes and references

Notes and citations

Books and printed materials

  • The Art of Poetry LXXVI: Robert Pinsky" The Paris Review No. 144 (1997), 180-213 (interview)

Online Resources

  • [1]
  • [2]
  • [3]
  • Modern American Poetry: Pinsky on his Religious Background (interview)
  • [4]
  • [5]
  • [6] Interview with Pinsky by J.M. Spalding
  • The Favorite Poem Project Site
  • IPA: Robert Pinsky reads a selection of his poetry
  • Poet Robert Pinsky Takes on King David in a public radio interview on ThoughtCast!
  • Robert Pinsky is the special guest judge for the Sean Penn vs. Stephen Colbert's "Meta-Free-Phor-All: Shall I Nail Thee to a Summer's Day?" Metaphor-Off

  • Persondata
    NAME Robert Pinsky
    SHORT DESCRIPTION American poet, editor, literary critic, academic.
    DATE OF BIRTH 20 October 1940
    PLACE OF BIRTH Long Branch, New Jersey (United States)
    DATE OF DEATH Still alive
    PLACE OF DEATH Still alive.
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