As National Poetry Month in April approached this year, we took a look back at some of the remarkable poets State of the Arts has profiled over the past decade. There are many. Our broadcast episode next week features four of them, some of America’s most celebrated poets. Each has a deep connection to New Jersey.
Producer Susan Wallner met Robert Pinsky in his hometown of Long Branch, New Jersey. The two-time US Poet Laureate took our crew on a tour of his old neighborhood, the house he grew up in, and Long Branch High School, where he had the same homeroom teacher his father had had decades earlier! It was an emotional and reflective day for the poet. Robert was in Long Branch to perform his poetry with jazz musicians that evening and our cameras were there.
Producer Christopher Benincasa met poet Gregory Pardlo for a reading at Villanova University, at his Brooklyn apartment with his family, and for a visit to his hometown, Willingboro, New Jersey. There he was welcomed as a hero having just won the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry. At the time, he had just begun writing his celebrated memoir, Air Traffic: A Memoir of Ambition and Manhood in America. The title refers to the famous air traffic controllers’ strike of 1981. His father lost his job during the strike, leading to a changed life for Gregory.
Poet Stephen Dunn taught at Stockton University for decades. Producer Eric Schultz spent the day with the Pulitzer Prize-winner in Western Maryland where he had retired. Stephen moved there with his wife, essayist and professor Barbara Hurd. Stephen reflected on his unlikely career as a poet—there were no artists or writers in his family and his dream as a young man was to play basketball. He was known as an accessible poet and for us he read a wonderful poem about marriage which includes the line, “Before I asked my wife to marry me, I told her I’d never be fully honest.” The poem ends with a striking line that surprised even the poet when he first jotted it down.
The fourth story in our quartet of poets this week profiles Brenda Shaughnessy. Producer Bob Szuter met Brenda at the biannual Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival where she was a featured performer. It’s the largest and most prestigious gathering of poets in North America. He visited Brenda’s MFA class at Rutgers University-Newark, where she described her five basic rules for aspiring poets, including some intriguing advice!
Our State of the Arts special Four Poets premieres Wednesday, April 19 at 8:30 pm on NJ PBS. Broadcasts continue throughout the week on NJ PBS, WNET, and ALL ARTS.