Bruce Springsteen, Pinsky team up at N.J. festival
MADISON, N.J. (AP) – Robert Pinsky and Bruce Springsteen apparently have more in common than just a way with words – they can trace the beginnings of their glory days all the way back to the same hospital at the New Jersey shore.
The former U.S. poet laureate and the unofficial poet laureate of rock ‘n’ roll appeared on stage Thursday at Fairleigh Dickinson University, where they discussed their work, influences and careers and joked about the fact both were born at Monmouth Memorial Hospital, albeit nine years apart (Pinsky is older).
The occasion was the university’s WAMFEST Words and Music Festival, an event sponsored by its creative writing department. Recording artist John Wesley Harding, nee Wesley Stace, an artist in residence at the school, moderated the two-hour performance and discussion in front of a packed auditorium of 400 students, faculty and whoever else could wangle a way in the door.
Springsteen and Pinsky had met for the first time on Thursday, Harding said, but their affinity for each other’s work was obvious.
“What I’ve been trying to write about for 40 years, Robert gets into a single poem,” Springsteen said.
Both spoke fondly of their home state, though in different ways. Pinsky, who grew up in “not the greatest part of Long Branch” and now lives in western Massachusetts, realized after he moved to California that he missed the Garden State’s speech patterns and sarcasm; Springsteen dreamed of getting out of New Jersey as a youth but later came to find meaning in “a certain plot of ground, a certain place” after his work became more introspective.
Springsteen recalled being influenced by, of all people, Frank Sinatra for the way his songs resonated with everyday people.
“He sang colloquially, the way people speak,” he said. “The minute the needle goes down on the record, a world is summoned up. I wanted to catalog my times in that way.”
The two men, joined at times by Harding, performed their works separately and together. Pinsky’s poem “Shirt” segued into Springsteen’s “The River,” and Springsteen read Pinsky’s “Samurai Song” as a prelude to his own “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” played on 12-string guitar.
Springsteen also performed “Promised Land,” “Nebraska” and “Born to Run,” and he joked that “you have to be careful if you’re a songwriter reading poetry, because the temptation to steal is ever present.”
Both spoke about how their art has evolved as they’ve grown older, and Pinsky said while self-doubt never completely disappears the experience of living provides a constant source of material.
“All the main issues of making art remain the same,” he said. “Fortunately there are always new things to think about.”