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About this poet

On October 20, 1940, Robert Pinsky was born in Long Branch, New Jersey. He received a BA from Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, and earned both an MA and PhD in Philosophy from Stanford University, where he was a Stegner Fellow in creative writing, and studied under the poet and critic Yvor Winters.

He is the author of several collections of poetry, including Selected Poems (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011); Gulf Music: Poems (Farrar, Straus & Giroux: 2007); Jersey Rain (2000); The Figured Wheel: New and Collected Poems 1966-1996 (1996), which received the 1997 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize and was a Pulitzer Prize nominee; The Want Bone (1990); History of My Heart (1984); An Explanation of America (1980); and Sadness and Happiness (1975).

He is also the author of several prose titles, including Singing School: Learning to Write (and Read) Poetry by Studying with the Masters (W. W. Norton, 2013);The Life of David (Schocken, 2006); Democracy, Culture, and the Voice of Poetry (2002); The Sounds of Poetry (1998), which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; Poetry and the World (1988); and The Situation of Poetry(1977). In 1985 he also released a computerized novel, Mindwheel.

Pinsky has published two acclaimed works of translation: The Inferno of Dante (1994), which was a Book-of-the-Month-Club Editor's Choice, and received both the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the Harold Morton Landon Translation Award; and The Separate Notebooks by Czeslaw Milosz (with Renata Gorczynski and Robert Hass).

About his work, the poet Louise Glück has said, "Robert Pinsky has what I think Shakespeare must have had: dexterity combined with worldliness, the magician's dazzling quickness fused with subtle intelligence, a taste for tasks and assignments to which he devises ingenious solutions."

From 1997 to 2000, he served as the United States Poet Laureate and Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. During that time, he founded the Favorite Poem Project, a program dedicated to celebrating, documenting and encouraging poetry's role in Americans' lives.

In 1999, he co-edited Americans' Favorite Poems: The Favorite Poem Project Anthology with Maggie Dietz. Other anthologies he has edited include An Invitation to Poetry (W. W. Norton, 2004); Poems to Read (2002); and Handbook of Heartbreak (1998).

His honors include an American Academy of Arts and Letters award, both the William Carlos Williams Award and the Shelley Memorial prize from the Poetry Society of America, the PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry, and a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship. He is currently poetry editor of the weekly Internet magazine Slate.

Pinsky has taught at both Wellesley College and the University of California, Berkeley, and currently teaches in the graduate writing program at Boston University. He served as a Chancellor for The Academy of American Poets from 2004 to 2010. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Multimedia

From the Image Archive

 

The Refinery

Robert Pinsky, 1940
". . . our language, forged in the dark by  centuries of violent
pressure, underground,  out of the stuff of dead life."

Thirsty and languorous after their long black sleep
The old gods crooned and shuffled and shook their heads.
Dry, dry. By railroad they set out
Across the desert of stars to drink the world
Our mouths had soaked
In the strange sentences we made
While they were asleep: a pollen-tinted
Slurry of passion and lapsed
Intention, whose imagined
Taste made the savage deities hiss and snort.

In the lightless carriages, a smell of snake
And coarse fur, glands of lymphless breath
And ichor, the avid stenches of 
Immortal bodies.

Their long train clicked and sighed
Through the gulfs of night between the planets
And came down through the evening fog
Of redwood canyons. From the train
At sunset, fiery warehouse windows
Along a wharf. Then dusk, a gash of neon:
Bar. Black pinewoods, a junction crossing, glimpses
Of sluggish surf among the rocks, a moan
Of dreamy forgotten divinity calling and fading
Against the windows of a town. Inside
The train, a flash
Of dragonfly wings, an antlered brow.

Black night again, and then
After the bridge, a palace on the water:

The great Refinery--impossible city of lights,
A million bulbs tracing its turreted
Boulevards and mazes. The castle of a person
Pronounced alive, the Corporation: a fictional
Lord real in law.

Barbicans and torches
Along the siding where the engine slows
At the central tanks, a ward
Of steel palisades, valved and chandeliered.

The muttering gods
Greedily penetrate those bright pavilions--
Libation of Benzene, Naphthalene, Asphalt,
Gasoline, Tar: syllables
Fractioned and cracked from unarticulated

Crude, the smeared keep of life that fed
On itself in pitchy darkness when the gods
Were new--inedible, volatile
And sublimated afresh to sting
Our tongues who use it, refined from oil of stone.

The gods batten on the vats, and drink up
Lovecries and memorized Chaucer, lines from movies
And songs hoarded in mortmain: exiles' charms,
The basal or desperate distillates of breath
Steeped, brewed and spent
As though we were their aphids, or their bees,
That monstered up sweetness for them while they dozed.

From The Want Bone, published by The Ecco Press. Copyright © 1990 by Robert Pinsky. Reprinted by permission of The Ecco Press. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

From The Want Bone, published by The Ecco Press. Copyright © 1990 by Robert Pinsky. Reprinted by permission of The Ecco Press. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Robert Pinsky

Robert Pinsky

The author of several collections of poetry, Robert Pinsky won the 1997 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize for his book The Figured Wheel: New and Collected Poems 1966-1996

by this poet

poem
When I had no roof I made
Audacity my roof. When I had
No supper my eyes dined.

When I had no eyes I listened.
When I had no ears I thought.
When I had no thought I waited.

When I had no father I made
Care my father. When I had
No mother I embraced order.

When I had no friend I made
Quiet my friend. When I
poem

In the skull kept on the desk.
In the spider-pod in the dust.

Or nowhere. In milkmaids, in loaves,
Or nowhere. And if Socrates leaves

His house in the morning,
When he returns in the evening

He will find Socrates waiting
On the doorstep. Buddha the stick

You use to clear

poem

 

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