Tribute

I submitted summer grades last night and hope to get to the office machines early this morning in order to beat the rush of fellow syllabi copiers. Classes begin next week, and you can bet that we'll be looking at poems by Philip Levine in my Introduction to Poetry class.

In the past, I've used him to teach lyric structure and measure, and also to discuss voice. I think I may have them read some of these recent Poet Laureate newspaper articles alongside some much older reviews and have them write about the historicity surrounding his work and its reception over the decades. I think its important to get some context for why this appointment is so significant.

Here's the PBS News Hour report on the news and also a poem by Dorianne Laux which pays tribute to his impact on her work and life. The poem appears in her newest collection The Book of Men, but I'm reposting this from Valparaiso Review which originally published the poem.






Mine Own Phil Levine

after W.S. Merwin


What he told me, I will tell you
There was a war on
It seemed we had lived through
Too many to name, to number

There was no arrogance about him
No vanity, only the strong backs
Of his words pressed against
The tonnage of a page

His suggestion to me was that hard work
Was the order of each day
When I asked again, he said it again,
Pointing it out twice

His Muse, if he had one, was a window
Filled with a brick wall, the left hand corner
Of his mind, a hand lined with grease
And sweat: literal things

Before I knew him, I was unknown
I drank deeply from his knowledge
A cup he gave me again and again
Filled with water, clear river water

He was never old, and never grew older
Though the days passed and the poems
Marched forth and they were his words
Only, no other words were needed

He advised me to wait, to hold true
To my vision, to speak in my own voice
To say the thing straight out
There was the whole day about him

The greatest thing, he said, was presence
To be yourself in your own time, to stand up
That poetry was precision, raw precision
Truth and compassion: genius

I had hardly begun. I asked, How did you begin
He said, I began in a tree, in Lucerne
In a machine shop, in an open field
Start anywhere

He said If you don’t write, it won’t
Get written. No tricks. No magic
About it. He gave me his gold pen
He said What’s mine is yours

Dorianne Laux
from Valparaiso Review, Fall/Winter 2009-2010