Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky Gives Voice to Dante

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On Sept. 13, the Fordham Reads Dante initiative, in collaboration with the Francis and Ann Curran Center, hosted three-term Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky, who spoke on his translation of Dante’s Inferno. Pinsky’s translation, published in 1995, was a national bestseller and a hit with literature critics, as it was considered more idiomatic and accessible than its contemporaries. In her introduction, the Curran Center’s Associate Director Angela O’Donnell called it “a supple, American equivalent [to Dante].”

Pinsky, a former saxophonist, has said the excitement and tension of jazz still inspire him as a poet. He said he writes with the audience as his medium, and he believes his work will not live until it’s read in someone else’s voice, and given volume. In the same sense then, it can be said that Pinsky has allowed Dante’s Inferno to live a little louder in his American translation.

As to his unique opinions on the poem, Pinsky had this to tell his Lincoln Center audience: “This is not a poem about punishment, but the sin of despair… the agony of feeling defective and being defective… I believe Inferno is the best book ever written about depression.”

The Fordham Reads Dante initiative meets once a month to read and discuss Dante’s Divina Commedia. Their next discussion will be on Sept. 22, at 5:30 p.m. in Faber Hall 568 on the Rose Hill campus.

– Kiran Singh

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