Feature

Author of the week: Philip Levine

The 83-year-old Detroit native accepted the honorary post of poet laureate of the United States in early August.

Philip Levine wasn't expecting to be named poet laureate of the United States, said Donald Munro in The Detroit News. "Because of my age, I just assumed that I had been found wanting some years ago," says the 83-year-old Detroit native, who accepted the honorary post in early August. Now known for his Whitmanesque odes to blue-collar laborers in the Motor City, Levine turned to poetry in his 20s while working on an assembly line, building transmissions for Cadillac. "I believed even then that if I could transform my experience into poetry, I would give it the value and dignity it did not begin to possess on its own. I thought, too, that if I could write about it I could come to understand it; I could embrace it with some degree of joy, an element conspicuously missing from my life."

Levine will have few official duties during his tenure, said Charles McGrath in The New York Times. He says he hopes to bring attention to the "enormous number of forgotten poets out there," perhaps through radio spots. "I know a great many poems that I love and that most people have never heard of," he says. He considered trying to get people to identify the ugliest poems they know, too, but decided that the Library of Congress wouldn't go for that. For now, he's just pleased to be included in the company of some of the nation's previous poet laureates. "If you take it too seriously, you're an idiot," he says. "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, but most."

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