Robert Pinsky

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Robert Pinsky
Robert pinsky 20050515.jpg
Robert Pinsky (b. 1940), at a 2005 event.
Born (1940-10-20) October 20, 1940 (age 75)
Long Branch, New Jersey, U.S.
Occupation poet, literary critic, editor, academic
Nationality United States
Period 1968–present
Genre poetry, literary criticism
Notable works Selected Poems (2011)
Spouse Ellen Jane Bailey (m. 1961; 3 children)

Robert Pinsky (born October 20, 1940) is an American poet, essayist, literary critic, and translator. From 1997 to 2000, he served as Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. Pinsky is the author of nineteen books, most of which are collections of his poetry. His published work also includes critically acclaimed translations, including The Inferno of Dante Alighieri and The Separate Notebooks by Czesław Miłosz. He teaches at Boston University.


Early life and education[edit]

Pinsky was born in Long Branch, New Jersey to Jewish parents, Sylvia (née Eisenberg) and Milford Simon Pinsky, an optician.[1] He attended Long Branch High School.[2] He received a B.A. from Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, and earned both an M.A. and Ph.D. from Stanford University, where he was a Stegner Fellow in creative writing. He was a student of Francis Fergusson and Paul Fussell at Rutgers and Yvor Winters at Stanford.[3]

Personal life[edit]

Pinsky married Ellen Jane Bailey, a clinical psychologist, in 1961. They have three children.[4] Pinsky taught at Wellesley College and at the University of California at Berkeley, and now[when?] lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts and teaches in the graduate writing program at Boston University.[5]


Early on, Pinsky was inspired by the flow and tension of jazz and the excitement that it made him feel. As a former saxophonist, he has said that being a musician was a profoundly influential experience that he has tried to reproduce in his poetry. The musicality of poetry was and is extremely important to his work.[6] Additionally, Pinsky revealed in a 1999 interview with Bomb Magazine that he enjoys jazz for its "physical immediacy, improvisation and also the sense that a lifetime of suffering and study and thought and emotion is behind some single phrase."[7]

Rather than intending to communicate a single or concrete meaning with his work, Pinsky anticipated that his poetry would change depending on the particular subjectivity of each reader. Embracing the idea that people's individuality would fill out the poem, he has said, "The poetry I love is written with someone’s voice and I believe its proper culmination is to be read with someone’s voice. And the human voice in that sense is not electronically reproduced or amplified; it’s the actual living breath inside a body—not necessarily the second life of reception—not necessarily the expert’s body or the artist’s body. Whoever reads the poem aloud becomes the proper medium for the poem."[7] Pinsky observes 'the kind of poetry I write emphasizes the physical qualities of the words'[8] for poetry to Pinsky, is a vocal art, not necessarily performative,but reading to one self or recalling some lines by memory.[9] Pinsky comments 'all language is necessarily abstract ' .[10] No aspect of a poem, he observes, is more singular, more unique, than its rhythm, for there are no rules.[11]

Pinsky (right) with Gerald Stern at the Miami Book Fair International 2011

He received a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship in 1974, and in 1997 he was named the United States Poet Laureate and Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, being the first and so far only poet to be named to three terms.[12] As Poet Laureate, Pinsky founded 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 culture. The project sought to document that presence, giving voice to the American audience for poetry.[13]

The Shakespeare Theatre of Washington, D.C. commissioned Pinsky to write a free adaptation of Friederich Schiller's drama Wallenstein. The Shakespeare Theatre presented the play, starring Stephen Pickering in the title role, directed by Michael Kahn, in 2013. Premiering on April 17 of that year, the play had a sold-out run, in repertory with Coriolanus.[14] Pinsky also wrote the libretto for Death and the Powers, an opera by composer Tod Machover. The opera received its world premiere in Monte Carlo in September 2010 and its U.S. premiere at Boston's Cutler Majestic Theater in March 2011.[15] Pinsky is also the author of the interactive fiction game Mindwheel (1984) developed by Synapse Software and released by Broderbund.[16]

Pinsky guest-starred in an episode of the animated sitcom The Simpsons TV show, "Little Girl in the Big Ten" (2002), and appeared on The Colbert Report in April, 2007, as the judge of a "Meta-Free-Phor-All" between Stephen Colbert and Sean Penn.

In 2011, Farrar, Straus and Giroux published Selected Poems[17][18][19]

In 2012, Circumstantial Productions released the CD, PoemJazz, by Robert Pinsky and Laurence Hobgood.[20][21]




  • Pinsky, Robert (1975). Sadness and happiness. Princeton UP. 
  • An Explanation of America (1981) Princeton University Press
  • History of My Heart (1984) Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • The Want Bone (1990) Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • The Figured Wheel: New and Collected Poems 1966–1996 (1996) Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Jersey Rain (2000) Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Gulf Music: Poems (2007) Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Selected Poems (2011) Farrar, Straus and Giroux


Title Year First published in Collected in
Food 2012 The New Yorker 88/38 (December 3, 2012)



Interactive fiction[edit]

As translator[edit]

  • The Separate Notebooks by Czesław Miłosz, with Renata Gorczynski and Robert Hass (1984)
  • The Inferno of Dante: A New Verse Translation (1995)

As editor[edit]


  • PoemJazz (2012) Circumstantial Productions

Honors and awards[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

Notes and citations[edit]

  1. ^ "Obituary". Sun Sentinel. 
  2. ^ D'Amato, Anthony (May 7, 2010). "Jersey: 'The Most American State?' - What does a three-term United States Poet Laureate have to say about growing up in New Jersey? Find out in this month's Q & A with Robert Pinsky". New Jersey Monthly. Retrieved September 6, 2011.  "My aunts and uncles and cousins and parents all attended Long Branch High School, as did my brother and sister and I."
  3. ^ Stanford citation. Google Books. 
  4. ^ "Robert Pinsky". 
  5. ^ "Pinsky teaches poetry to the world"
  6. ^ "Robert Pinsky, New Page 1". Cary Academy. 
  7. ^ a b Sleigh, Tom (Summer 1998). "Robert Pinsky". BOMB Magazine. Retrieved June 19, 2012. 
  8. ^ Cavalieri, Grace. "The Poet and the Poem". WPFW-FM (1996-96 season). 
  9. ^ Downing & Kunitz (1996). "Interview". The Art of Poetry. 
  10. ^ Hartman, Charles Free Verse - an essay on Prosody Princeton University Press, Princeton 1980 ISBN 9780810113169
  11. ^ Pinsky, Robert (1998). The Sounds of Poetry -A Brief Guide. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 0374266956. 
  12. ^ "Robert Pinsky". Today (Library of Congress). 1999. 
  13. ^ McKinley, Jesse (April 3, 1998). "People (Not All Famous) As the Greatest Poem". The New York Times. Retrieved September 6, 2011. 
  14. ^ "Robert Pinsky adapts Wallenstein for Shakespeare Theater". Washington Post. April 18, 2013. 
  15. ^ Eichler, Jeremy (March 21, 2011). "Second Life: ‘Death and the Powers’ from ART". Boston Globe. Retrieved September 6, 2011. 
  16. ^ Interactive Fiction "Interactive Fiction" Check |url= scheme (help). Electronic Book Review. 
  17. ^ Pinsky, Robert. Selected Poems. MacMillan. 
  18. ^ Jollimore, Troy (March 17, 2011). "Robert Pinsky's Selected Poems Reviewed". Washington Post. 
  19. ^ Pinsky, Robert (January 12, 2012). "Wild Ride Through America". New York Books. 
  20. ^ Hobgood, Laurence. "Robert Pinsky". 
  21. ^ "Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky". February 23, 2012. 
  22. ^ HOTUD. "Mindware". My Abandonware. 
  23. ^ Pinsky, Robert; Hales, Steve (Programmer); Mataga, William (Programmer); Blair, Richard; Foster, Kazuko = (Illustrator) (1984). Mindware: An Electronic Novel (First ed.). Synapse and Broderbund. ASIN B00146ENOS. 

Books and printed materials[edit]

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

Online resources[edit]

External links[edit]


Poetry readings[edit]