Philip Levine, the next U.S. Poet Laureate

August 9, 2011

This October, Philip Levine will become the 18th Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, succeeding W. S. Merwin. In the words of Dr. James H. Billington, the Librarian of Congress, Mr. Levine “is one of America’s great narrative poets. His plainspoken lyricism has, for half a century, championed the art of telling ‘The Simple Truth’ — about working in a Detroit auto factory, as he has, and about the hard work we do to make sense of our lives.”

In poetry, the Detroit native and son of Russian Jewish emigrants found “a voice within myself that I didn’t know was there. A joy in my being, in creation, in the physical world that surrounded me.”

After various grueling industrial jobs in the Motor City, Mr. Levine finally decided to become a poet, and went on to get his MFA from the famed Iowa Writer’s Workshop, studying with Robert Lowell and his “one great mentor,” John Berryman.  He has had a long and distinguished career, and remains Professor Emeritus at California State University, Fresno. His numerous awards include a Pulitzer, two National Book Awards, and the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize (to name just a few). At 83, Mr. Levine will be one of the oldest Poet Laureates. When asked for his thoughts about this latest in a long list of honors, he replied:

“How can I put it? It’s like winning the Pulitzer. If you take it too seriously, you’re an idiot. But if you look at the names of the other poets who have won it, most of them are damn good. Not all of them — I’m not going to name names — but most. My editor was thrilled, and my wife jumped for joy. She hasn’t done that in a while.”

You can find some of Philip Levine’s work here, and at the library (of course).

~ Olivia (Reader’s Services)




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