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Robert Pinsky ( 1940 - )  Category ( Poets ) [suggest a correction]
 

Robert PinskyA native of Long Branch, New Jersey, Robert Pinsky was not born into a family involved in the creative arts, but his parents detected his interest and talent for writing, and the arts generally, even when he was a young child.

His father was an optician, and his parents wanted him to grow up and be the same. However, his desire to work in a more creative profession held sway and he was off to Rutgers University, the first person in his family to attend college. He was inspired by the work of William Butler Yeats, and while an undergraduate, he copied his favorite Yeats poem, "Sailing to Byzantium" and hung it on his dormitory wall for inspiration.

In 1961 he married Ellen Jane Bailey, who was a psychologist. The couple would go on to have three daughters, Nicole, Caroline Rose, and Elizabeth. When Pinsky graduated from Rutgers he enrolled at Stanford University's graduate school, earning a Ph.D. in English. Following his doctoral studies he and his family returned to the East Coast, where he taught English at Wellesley College.

Later he and the family relocated to California once more when Pinsky accepted a position in the English department at the University of California at Berkeley. During his teaching career he continued to write, not only poetry but literary criticism. In his 1976 The Situation of Poetry, he expressed a need to "find a language for presenting the role of a conscious soul in an unconscious world." His work often contains aspects of the psychological, and psychological themes. His most famous poem, entitled "The Inferno of Dante: A New Verse Translation," held a particular appeal for the poet. He has stated that while writing it, "I literally could not stop working on it."

He would sometimes write until he literally fell asleep before the page. "We have pillowcases stained with ink where my wife took the pen out of my hand at night," he said. "Inferno" quickly reached bestseller status and was awarded the Los Angeles Times Book Review Award and the Howard Morton Landon Prize for Translation. The translation made such an impact that it drew the attention of the Library of Congress, and in 1997, Librarian of Congress James H. Billington appointed Pinsky as Poet Laureate of the United States.

As other Poet Laureates have done before and since, Pinsky embarked on travel across the country, encouraging the reading, writing, and appreciation of poetry, and the importance of literature in everyone's life. He also founded "The Favorite Poem Program," which is now an internet database. The program initially invited one hundred average Americans to read their favorite poetry and have it recorded for the official archives of the Library of Congress. It was a huge success and remains a valuable resource for researchers and anyone interested in poetry. In addition to his teaching duties at Boston University, Pinsky serves as poetry editor for Slate, an online weekly Internet magazine.


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