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The Simpsons holds nothing sacred—not even poetry. In episode 289, Lisa Simpson sits before the Café Kafka stage in a black beret. Smooth jazz fades into the background as the host takes the mic to introduce the “Coltrane of the quatrain, the Tony Danza of the A-B stanza,” three-term poet laureate of the United States, Robert Pinsky. Spot-lit and Simpsons-yellow, his hawkish eyebrows swooping, the poet mesmerizes Lisa with a recitation of his poem “Impossible to Tell.”

Slow dulcimer, gavotte and bow, in autumn,
Bashō and his friends go out to view the moon;
In summer, gasoline rainbow in the gutter…

The scene skewers poetry’s reputation for pretentiousness, and Pinsky, who’s made it his life’s mission to disprove that perception, is playing right along. He has become so recognizable in his quest to uphold poetry’s relevance that he can guest-star on The Simpsons as himself.

A professor of English and creative writing at the College of Arts & Sciences, Pinsky is the Pulitzer Prize–nominated author of 10 books of poetry. He has also published five books of essays and a biography of King David, judged a metaphor contest on The Colbert Report, translated Dante’s Inferno, penned a libretto, released two jazz-poetry albums, written a computer game, and performed with Bruce Springsteen. In 2016, he published his first poetry collection in four years, At the Foundling Hospital (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), which the Los Angeles Times calls “considered and timely.”

Pinsky’s wide-ranging and eclectic passions are reflected in his work, where he tackles complexities like American democracy and the construction of identity. In person with BU Today, he is articulate to the point of sounding practiced, evasive about his own work, and forceful when championing poetry.

BU Today: Is there an interview question you’re sick of answering?

Pinsky: “How did you first get interested in poetry?” And sometimes the question that doesn’t quite make sense for me: “What made you decide to become a poet?” as though you decide to become a poet.

This is Robert Pinsky in seven vignettes.

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