Monmouth University Center for the Arts and the Visiting Writer’s Series are pleased to welcome former three-term U.S. Poet Laureate and Long Branch, NJ, native Robert Pinsky for an evening of conversation in celebration of the release of his memoir, “Jersey Breaks,” on Nov. 10 at 7:30 p.m. in the Great Hall Auditorium. The event, which is free and open to the public, will be moderated by David Hamilton Golland, Ph.D., dean of The Wayne D. McMurray School of Humanities and Social Sciences.
In late-1940s Long Branch, a historic but run-down Jersey Shore resort town, in a neighborhood of Italian, Black, and Jewish families, Pinsky began his unlikely journey to becoming a poet. Descended from a bootlegger grandfather, an athletic father, and a rebellious tomboy mother, Pinsky was an unruly but articulate high school C student, whose obsession with the rhythms and melodies of speech inspired him to write.
In “Jersey Breaks,” Pinsky traces the roots of his poetry, with its wide and fearless range, back to the voices of his neighborhood, to music and a distinctly American tradition of improvisation, with influences including Mark Twain and Ray Charles, Marianne Moore and Mel Brooks, Emily Dickinson and Sid Caesar, Dante Alighieri and the Orthodox Jewish liturgy. He reflects on how writing poetry helped him make sense of life’s challenges, such as his mother’s traumatic brain injury, and on his notable public presence, including an unprecedented three terms as United States poet laureate.
Pinsky moves back and forth in time, narrating his life in crisp, self-deprecating prose. “If I have a story to tell,” he writes, “it’s how the failures and aspirations of a certain time and place led to poetry.” In the “sounds of Hebrew,” Pinsky heard Milton, Blake, and Whitman. He recalls reading stories and poems in the glossy magazines in his optician father’s waiting room as well as the “exact moment when I became a writer,” thanks to Through the Looking Glass. As an “ambitious, pseudointellectual freshman” at Rutgers University, he encountered and enjoyed Ulysses and the poetry of William Carlos Williams, T.S. Eliot, and Allen Ginsberg. Pinsky confesses that his way of writing a poem stems from getting a “tune in my head…like noodling at the piano,” and his approach fostered his popular Favorite Poem Project, which combined the “appeal of gossip with the appeal of art.” Candid, engaging, and wry, “Jersey Breaks” offers an intimate self-portrait and a unique poetic understanding of American culture.
Called, “Truly the voice of the Jersey Shore” by Bruce Springsteen, Pinsky 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, Dante Alighieri’s “Inferno” and “The Separate Notebooks” by Czesław Miłosz. He teaches at Boston University.
Copies of “Jersey Breaks” will be available for purchase at the event. For more information or to RSVP, please visit www.monmouth.edu/MCA.