Monday, August 15, 2011

New U.S. Poet Laureate Philip Levine

83-year-old poet and professor Philip Levine has been named the new U.S. Poet Laureate. I was introduced to Levine's work in a graduate poetry workshop years before I committed to being a poet. The poem we read was "What Work Is", and it stayed with me because it was poetry about factory work. Not a subject I thought could be made poetic and yet Levine had done it.

Four years later, I was teaching remedial composition at Hofstra University when I heard Levine would be reading there. One of my favorite spots to sit was an old bench next to the English Department office, and I happened to see Levine an hour before the reading, walking with two faculty members showing him around. They didn't acknowledge me, which was good in that I got to observe Levine without imposing on him.

He wore a Detroit Tigers cap (road orange) and his pace was neither rushed nor labored. At the reading, he talked about books coming soon. "Soon," he added, was "two or three years away." Again, I got the sense he was completely at ease with the pace of time, neither nostalgic nor anxious about the future.

It was this outlook that helped me commit to poetry, the feeling that whatever I wrote from that moment on was enough. Thank you, Professor.

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