What Work Is

I almost missed it — but Anne pointed out to me that on Tuesday it was Philip Levine’s birthday. And since he’s one of my favorite poets I thought it was rude to let the occasion go unnoticed, even if it is a week late:

It’s the birthday of the poet Philip Levine born in Detroit (1928). He’s the author of many collections of poetry, including What Work Is (1991), The Simple Truth (1994), and The Mercy (1999). He discovered writing before he really knew what it was. He said, “As a boy of fourteen, I took long walks and talked to the moon and stars, and night after night I would reshape and polish these talks, but the moon and stars never answered.”

After college, he tried getting a job in advertising, but he couldn’t stand it, so he supported himself working in various auto factories around Detroit. Looking around at the other men in the factories, he realized none of them had a voice. Nobody was speaking for them or writing for them. He said, “As young people will… I took this foolish vow that I would speak for them, and that’s what my life would be. And sure enough I’ve gone and done it. Or I’ve tried anyway.”

Philip Levine said, “In a curious way, I’m not much interested in language. In my ideal poem, no words are noticed. You look through them into a vision of… just see the people, the place.”

%d bloggers like this: