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September 16, 1998

Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky To Open 1998-99 Literary Series

Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry Robert Pinsky will begin the 1998-99 literary series at the Library of Congress with a lecture on "Poetry and American Memory" at 6:45 p.m. Oct. 8 in the Mumford Room on the sixth floor of the James Madison Memorial Building, 101 Independence Ave. S.E. Tickets are not required.

Mr. Pinsky, the 1997-1999 Poet Laureate, was first appointed by Librarian of Congress James H. Billington in 1997. Dr. Billington reappointed Mr. Pinsky to a second term in May, noting, "He has actively encouraged a national renaissance of spoken poetry."

During his first term, Mr. Pinsky offered a lecture at the Library on "Digital Culture and the Individual Soul," brought a range of poets to read at the Library, granted $12,500 in fellowships to poets Carol Muske and Carl Phillips from the Witter Bynner Foundation in conjunction with the Library of Congress, and initiated what he hopes will become a tradition among Laureates, the printing of a poem by a former Laureate in decorative broadside form.

He also launched his Favorite Poem Project, a Bicentennial project of the Library of Congress, also supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, with a five-city public poetry reading and publicity tour. At the White House on April 22, Mr. Pinsky and the two immediate past Poets Laureate, Rita Dove (1993-95) and Robert Hass (1995-97) joined President and Mrs. Clinton as they read poems and announced that the Favorite Poem Project would also be part of the nation's Millennium Celebration.

For the Favorite Poem Project, Mr. Pinsky is selecting a broad cross section of Americans reading their favorite poems aloud as part of the Library's Bicentennial. In the year 2000, when the Library celebrates its 200th birthday, 200 video and 1,000 audio tapes of readings will be added to the Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature as one of the Library's gifts to the nation. These readings by Americans will augment the archive, which has recordings of 2,000 poets and authors reading their work. This fall, Favorite Poem Readings will take place at public libraries, schools and other venues across the United States.

"The audio and video archive will be a record," Mr. Pinsky states, "at the end of the century, of what we Americans choose, and of what we do with our voices and faces, when asked to say aloud a poem that we love. The archive of letters from many thousands of volunteers will itself be a valuable cultural document. Each potential reader will be invited to say a sentence or two about why the particular poem was selected."

Individuals interested in participating may write to him at Boston University, Creative Writing Department, 236 Bay State Road, Boston, MA 02215, stating which poem they would like to read or recite and why. A web page about the Favorite Poem Project is available at

Mr. Pinsky teaches in the graduate creative writing program at Boston University.

Two new books by Mr. Pinsky will be published this month: The Handbook of Heartbreak: 101 Poems of Lost Love and Sorrow and The Sounds of Poetry: A Brief Guide, which Mr. Pinsky describes as "a brief, plain book about how to hear poems."

He is the author of five collections of his own poetry: Sadness and Happiness (1975); An Explanation of America (1980), awarded the Saxifrage Prize as the year's best volume of poetry from a small or university press; History of My Heart (1984), which won the William Carlos Williams Prize in 1995; The Want Bone (1990); and The Figured Wheel: New and Collected Poems, 1966-1996 (1995), which was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry. In 1997, it received the Lenore Marshall Award and the Ambassador Book Award in Poetry.

He is co-translator of The Separate Notebooks, by Nobel Laureate Czeslaw Milosz (1983). His verse translation of The Inferno of Dante (1994) was awarded the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in poetry and the Harold Morton Landon Translation Award, given by the Academy of American Poets.

Mr. Pinsky is also a recipient of the 1996 Poetry Society of America's Shelley Memorial Award. His writing has won awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts and the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.

Mr. Pinsky is the author of three collections of essays: Landor's Poetry (1968), The Situation of Poetry (1977), and Poetry and the World (1988), which was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award in criticism.

Having served as poetry editor of The New Republic through much of the 1980s, he is currently poetry editor of the weekly Internet magazine Slate, and a contributor to "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer" on PBS, reading poems related to current events.

The Poetry and Literature Center administers the poetry series that Mr. Pinsky will open Oct. 8. The public poetry and fiction readings, lectures, symposia, and occasional dramatic performances began in the 1940s. It is the oldest annual poetry series in the Washington area, and among the oldest in the United States.

The Poetry and Literature Center is also the home of the Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry, a position that has existed since 1936, when the late philanthropist Archer M. Huntington endowed the Chair of Poetry at the Library of Congress. Archibald MacLeish, who was Librarian from 1939 to 1944, determined the Consultant in Poetry should be an annual appointment.

The position has existed for 61 years under two separate titles: from 1937 to 1986 as Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress and from 1986 forward as Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry. The name was changed by an act of Congress in 1985.

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PR 98-145
ISSN 0731-3527

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