Robert Pinsky Biography


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Robert Pinsky was born in Long Branch, New Jersey, on October 20, 1940. His father was an optician, and his parents were Orthodox Jews. Though influenced by keeping kosher and going to Hebrew school, his parents went to synagogue only on High Holidays.

Pinsky attended Long Branch High School in New Jersey, and while growing up, he fell in love with music. Childhood impressions of everyday sounds gave Pinsky his first desire to explore the mysterious rhythms of life. He began as a saxophonist and with writing songs. He eventually started writing poetry. This became not only his outlet for rhythm, voice, and sound, but also for ideas and a connection to humanity. He earned his B.A. from Rutger’s University and then his M.A. and Ph.D. from Stanford University. At Stanford, he held the Stegner Fellowship for creative writing. He then taught at Berkeley University in California and Wellesley College in Massachusetts. He eventually moved to Boston, where he continued to teach creative writing at Boston University into the twenty-first century.

After publishing a collection of essays, Landor’s Poetry, in 1968, he received a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship in 1974. In 1975, he published a collection of poetry titled Sadness and Happiness. In 1976, Pinsky published another collection of essays titled The Situation of Poetry. In 1980, his second collection of poems, titled An Explanation of America (1979), received the Saxifrage Prize. He was awarded the William Carlos Williams award of the Poetry Society of America in 1984 for his publication of History of My Heart (1984). He published a third...

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(Masterpieces of American Literature)

In all of Robert Pinsky’s poems, one sees the poet as actor in each scene. He is a part of the history of humanity. Through manifesting interconnectedness, Pinsky carries the burden of the past. It is only through Pinsky’s recognition of the past that his poems begin to live in the present moment. His poetry is about living and life. To Pinsky, life is the chief concern of the poet, and the poet, through creation, gives life to history, time, and ghosts. The poet gives the forgotten past a voice for the people of the contemporary world by which to remember the past.


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Robert Pinsky was born in 1940, in the coastal town of Long Branch, New Jersey, a locale that figures prominently in many of his nostalgic and autobiographical poems. Pinsky completed his undergraduate studies at Rutgers University, then moved to the West Coast to undertake graduate studies at Stanford University, where he came under the powerful influence of the critic and poet Yvor Winters. After earning a Ph.D. in English at Stanford, Pinsky taught at Wellesley College (1968-1980) and at the University of California, Berkeley (1980-1988), before becoming a faculty member at Boston University in the graduate creative writing program in 1988. From 1979 to 1986, he was poetry editor for The New Republic. After his tenure as poet laureate of the United States ended in 2000, Pinsky became poetry editor for the Internet magazine Slate.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Robert Pinsky is an accomplished poet and critic. He was born in Long Branch, New Jersey, to Milford Pinsky, an optician, and his wife, Sylvia. All four of Pinsky’s grandparents were Jewish immigrants to America from Eastern Europe. The environment of Long Branch, which Pinsky describes as a “decayed resort town,” made a deep impression on the poet-to-be. In an autobiographical essay, “Salt Water,” Pinsky describes how living close to the ocean causes the imagination to be pushed in “extravagant directions.”

Pinsky’s memories of childhood are happy, but he was restless and unhappy as an adolescent; he was suspended from school for cutting classes and insubordination. He played the tenor saxophone and daydreamed of achieving fame as a jazz musician and composer. Playing music expressed his craving for freedom and art.

Realizing the limits of his gifts as a musician, Pinsky began to dream of becoming a poet. During his first year of graduate school at Stanford University, he showed his poems to the poet and critic Yvor Winters, who was teaching there. One of Pinsky’s better-known poems, “Essay on Psychiatrists,” includes a tribute to Winters. Undeterred by Winters’s initial criticism, Pinsky arranged a directed reading course with him on the periods of poetry in English. Pinsky marks his meeting with Winters as “a kind of birth.”

“Essay on Psychiatrists,” a seventeen-page poem from Pinsky’s first poetry collection, Sadness and Happiness, displays the discursive style that characterizes much of his poetry. Pinsky traces his employment of long lines and units to his ambition to “use all the aspects” of himself—including comedic and...

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(Poetry for Students)

Robert Pinsky was born on October 20, 1940, in Long Branch, New Jersey, a former resort town along the Atlantic coast whose slow decay would...

(The entire section is 340 words.)