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Pinsky to speak at graduation

BY ANNA CLARK
Daily News Writer
Published March 15, 2001

The University Board of Regents today is expected to approve Robert Pinsky, who served as U.S. poet laureate from 1997 to 2000, as this year"s spring commencement speaker.

"We"re pretty excited," said Gary Krenz, special counsel to University President Lee Bollinger. "He"s a fantastic speaker and a wonderful poet, obviously."

Regent Olivia Maynard (D-Goodrich) also was enthusiastic about the choice.

"This is wonderful," she said. "He"ll be good. Maybe he"ll read us his poetry."

At the April 28 ceremony, Pinsky and five others, including U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and National Endowment for the Arts Chairman Bil Ivey, will be awarded honorary degrees from the University.

In the same month that Pinsky, a former Boston University English professor, was named the 39th U.S. poet laureate by the Library of Congress, he initiated the Favorite Poem Project. What was first an attempt to capture Americans reading their favorite poems aloud soon expanded to a much grander scale.

Pinsky"s national call for submissions of Americans" favorite poems resulted in 18,000 responses, representing ages 5 to 97 and every state.

At the same time, Pinsky encouraged videos, public readings and other poetry events in an attempt to bring poems into the everyday life of America.

He put together a variety of collections of the Favorite Poem responses to represent the country"s diverse tastes and styles and is currently working to use the materials for the bettering of teaching and reading poetry in schools.

But the award-winning poet has earned his own reputation in the arts.

"Whether he"s moving among ideas or images, meditations or stories, liturgy or slang, Robert Pinsky moves in language the way a jazz musician moves in melody," said Alan Shapiro, an English professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, in an introduction to Pinsky"s 1997 reading at that university.

He"s "inventing continuities and harmonies from moment to moment out of the stubbornly disharmonious materials of contemporary life," Shapiro said.

Bollinger selected Pinsky as the commencement speaker after he was recommended to receive an honorary degree by the University"s Committee on Honorary Degrees, Krenz said.

It is a University tradition for an honorary degree recipient to give the commencement address. "It"s ultimately the president"s decision," Krenz said, adding that practical concerns over who is available also factor in the selection.

Pinsky delivered Stanford University"s 1999 commencement address inserting several lines of his own poetry and finishing with his poem "Shirt."