Robert Pack, poet and teacher, was born in New York City on May 19, 1929. His father, Carl Pack, whose family immigrated to America from Germany, served as a New York assemblyman under Governor Franklin Roosevelt, and then as a state senator under Governor Herbert Lehman. Pack’s mother, Henrietta, came to America as a child with her family from Russia to escape the pogroms.
After a long illness, Carl Pack died at the age of forty-six when his son Robert was sixteen. With help from her brother during her husband’s long illness, Henrietta sent Robert and his younger sister, Marian (who also became an educator) to the Fieldston Ethical Culture School in Riverdale New York. The school’s emphasis on social service has had a life-long influence on Pack.
Two deep friendships that began in fifth grade with Richard Rubin and Woody Klein, have continued to the present. Rubin became a teacher of political science and a philanthropist, and Klein became a journalist. The importance of friendship has been a major theme in Pack’s poetry from his first book of poems, THE IRONY OF JOY, 1955, to his most recent collection.
During his high school years at Fieldston, Pack excelled as an athlete, both as a slugging third baseman and as a halfback on the school’s championship football team. Pack believes there is an instinctive connection between playing sports and writing poetry, in which the imagination must display its prowess within a set of formal rules.
Pack’s mother’s marriage to Abraham Kaufman, a successful businessman, a year after Carl’s death, coincided with Pack’s attachment to Isabelle Miller, his high-school girlfriend. Pack was twenty-one when they married; they divorced eight years later. Pack’s step-father suffered from depression, so the family had more illness to deal with: the need to overcome vulnerability became one of Pack’s ongoing themes.
Pack’s love of poetry developed at Dartmouth College where he immersed himself in the poetry of Robert Frost. When Frost visited the college to give talks, he and Pack would take long walks, discussing the craft of poetry. Pack has written many essays on Frost’s work, including his book-length study, BELIEF AND UNCERTAINTY, published in 2006. In 1991 Dartmouth College awarded Pack a gold medal for “Outstanding Leadership and Achievement.”
In graduate school, Pack turned to the poetry of Wallace Stevens. In 1958 Pack published WALLACE STEVENS: HIS POETRY AND THOUGHT, which took an overview of Stevens’ body of work following the publication of Stevens’ COLLECTED POEMS in 1954. Pack has continued to write about Stevens as in his essay, “Place and Nothingness,” published by The Wallace Stevens Journal. Stevens’ display of what he called “the gaiety of language” enhanced Pack’s love of alliterative and sonorous effects.