Robert Pinsky

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In what ways does Robert Pinsky use contrasting images in poems such as “The Figured Wheel”?

How does Pinsky use allusion in “The Figured Wheel”?

Is the catbird a necessary image in “At Pleasure Bay”? Why?

Why is the history of Krakow or the history of the Triangle Waist Factory important in order to understand “The Unseen” or “Shirt”?

When Pinsky held the Poet Laureate position, he created the Favorite Poem Project. How does this project exemplify Pinsky’s themes of humanity in his poems?

Other literary forms

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Robert Pinsky (PIHN-skee) has also written Mindwheel (1984), an interactive electronic computer game in the form of a novel, and two volumes of poetry criticism: The Situation of Poetry (1976) and Poetry and the World (1988). He has translated The Separate Notebooks, by Czesaw Miosz (1983), and The Inferno of Dante (1994). The Sounds of Poetry: A Brief Guide (1998) helps readers and other poets understand and appreciate the acoustic dimension of poetry.


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Robert Pinsky has won many literary and academic awards, including Woodrow Wilson fellowships in 1962 and 1966 and a Fulbright Award in 1965, the year he also won the Stegner Fellowship in Poetry. The National Endowment for the Humanities awarded him a fellowship in 1974, and in 1979, he won the Oscar Blumenthal Prize for Poetry. In 1980, he won three significant awards: the Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, the Saxifrage Prize, and a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship. In 1984, he garnered a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, and in 1985, he won the William Carlos Williams Prize, which is awarded by the Poetry Society of America. In 1988, he was a nominee for the National Book Critics Circle Award in criticism. In 1995, his Dante translation received a Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the Harold Morton Landon Translation Award. The Figured Wheel won the 1997 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize and was a Pulitzer Prize nominee. He also received the Shelley Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America in 1996. Pinsky served as poet laureate consultant in poetry to the Library of Congress from 1997 to 2000. In 1999, he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He received the PEN/Voelcker Award in 2004, the Jewish Cultural Foundation Achievement Award and the Bess Hokin Prize in 2006, and the Theodore Roethke Memorial Poetry Prize from Saginaw Valley State University in 2008 for Gulf Music. He became a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2005.


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Freedman, Jonathan. “How Now, Middlebrow?” Raritan 20 (Winter, 2001): 169-180. This review of Pinsky’s anthology Americans’ Favorite Poems says much about Pinsky’s place in the world of poetry.

Glück, Louise. “Story Tellers.” American Poetry Review, July/August, 1997, 9-12. Glück explores the narrative impulse in Pinsky’s work through comparisons with the poems of Stephen Dobyns. She attends to how each poet’s work is involved with time and history.

Lehman, David, ed. Ecstatic Occasions, Expedient Forms: Sixty-five Leading Contemporary Poets Select and Comment on Their Poems. New York: Macmillan, 1987. Lehman’s concept appears to be superficial, but the choices of poems and the quality of the authors’ commentaries are exceptional throughout. Pinsky explicates “The Want Bone” with candor and shares his enthusiasm for the use of the word “O.” His remarks are incisive and revealing.

Longenbach, James. “Robert Pinksy and the Language of Our Time.” Salmagundi 103 (Summer, 1994): 155-177. Longenbach argues that Pinsky’s originality in vision and in poetic diction can be understood by taking seriously his acknowledged indebtedness to and affinities with other writers.

Miller, Greg. “Spirituality in American Poetry.” Tikkun 18 (January/February, 2003): 68-70. Pinsky’s poem “Daniel” is analyzed.

Molesworth, Charles. “Proving Irony by Compassion: The Poetry of Robert Pinsky.” The Hollins Critic

(This entire section contains 382 words.)

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The Hollins Critic 21 (December, 1984): 1-18. Molesworth deals with three major topics: Pinsky’s use of discursive poetry, the role of irony in his work, and the all-important theme of compassion.

Parini, Jay. “Explaining America: The Poetry of Robert Pinsky.” Chicago Review 33 (Summer, 1981): 16-26. Parini has written widely on the subject of contemporary poetry, and this short study gives an excellent account of the connection between Pinsky’s critical theories and the volume An Explanation of America.

Pollitt, Katha. “World of Wonders.” The New York Times Book Review 18 (August, 1996): 9. Addressing The Figured Wheel, Pollitt praises Pinsky’s unique contribution in probing the human experience through poems that give both intellectual and sensual pleasure.

Tangorra, Joanne. “New Software from Synapse Takes Poetic License.” Publishers Weekly 227 (April 19, 1985): 50. Even though Tangorra’s piece is relatively brief, it offers an intriguing glimpse at another side of Pinsky’s creative expression—his electronic novel-game Mindwheel, the construction of which provides some fascinating clues about how Pinsky’s mind works and about how he organizes material in more traditional formats, such as those of poetry.


Critical Essays