Philip Levine, the most recent poet laureate, is coming to Western Michigan University Friday. Levine was born in Detroit. Some of his most famous poems are about his time working for General Motors, a job he says he didn't like very much.
Levine recently ended his term as the 18th U.S. poet laureate. He says the poet laureate position is honorary. Levine says many people think he has to help them with their poetry, but he was not obligated to do so because he did not actually work for the U.S. government. Poet laureates are appointed by the Library of Congress, but have few, if any, obligations in that position.
Many poet laureates have chosen to do a project, but Levine says he was more interested in reading to groups like labor unions and OSHA (Occupational Health and Safety Administration). Levine says he didn’t have a project, but he did ask poets he knew to send him the ‘ugliest poems,’ which he put into an anthology. Levine tried to get the Library of Congress to publish it, but they said they would do nothing of the kind.
Though Levine is known as a poet, he’s written many nonfiction works as well. He says his book The Bread of Time is mostly about people who have been his companions throughout his life in poetry. Some of his nonfiction works are anti-war texts. Levine says it’s hard not to take a political stance as a writer today. He says if you taste the chemicals in the water you drink and say ‘yuck,’ you’ve just made a political statement.
Levine says when he writes, he never knows who is going to read it. He says this creates problems for him because he’ll make references that younger generations might not understand. Levins says he thinks of himself as a Detroit poet, but also a California poet because he had lived there for many years. Though he also lived in Barcelona, Spain, he says he doesn’t consider himself a Catalan because he doesn’t speak Catalan, though he does speak Spanish. He got interested in 20th century Spanish poetry while living in Spain. Levine says he’s also heavily influenced by 20th century Polish poetry.
Levine will read some of his work Friday night at 8 in Western Michigan University’s Brown Auditorium. To find out more about poet laureate Philip Levine and his work, click the play button to hear his interview with WMUK’s Zinta Aistars.