Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A poet of workers

The Library of Congress has chosen a new Poet Laureate of the United States.  His name is Philip Levine.  I must confess I don't remember having heard of him before today.

The fact that I had not heard of him is just more proof of my cultural ignorance because he is an award-winning poet.  He's won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, among other awards.  At 83 years old, he is the oldest poet laureate ever chosen and his main topic is not one that we normally think of as inspiring poetry.  He is a poet of the working class.  He constructs poems from the everyday work of ordinary people.

The bits and pieces of his poetry that I found online today were very evocative and I think he merits a closer look.  For example, there were these lines from his 1999 poem "He Would Never Use One Word Where None Would Do."
Fact is, silence is the perfect water:
unlike rain it falls from no clouds
to wash our minds, to ease our tired eyes,
to give heart to the thin blades of grass
fighting through the concrete for even air
dirtied by our endless stream of words.
Silence as the perfect water that washes our minds and gives heart to the thin blades of grass fighting through the concrete for even the air that has been dirtied by our endless stream of words.  That image has such fecundity and richness to it.

Silence.  Perfect water.  Giving heart.  At this point, my dry, parched mind welcomes water in any form.  Even in the lines of a poem.

Mr. Levine is a fascinating choice for poet laureate.  I will be very interested to see what he does with the position.

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