The blog has been silent for a few days because I’ve been busy trying to get some new paperwork finished. These obligations are crucial. But I’ve been watching lots of great SOTG archival footage of old, wonderful productions–on which more later–and I am thrilled beyond words that Philip Levine is the poet laureate.
“Like most great triumphs, Levine’s achievement has a simple beginning.
It was the early 1940s and 13-year-old Levine was living by the outskirts of Detroit, about a mile from 8 Mile Road. That was back when the city really ended at its borders; Levine remembers there were five or so houses in an area of six city blocks and, beyond that, emptiness.
After dinner, he went out into the groves of trees. He would stand in the dirt, in the dusk, in the dark, and compose poetry in his head. He’d always had a fantastic memory, so it was no trouble to recite and revise his words on the spot. It became a weekly ritual.
“What I found was a voice within myself that I didn’t know was there,” said Levine, now 83.”
– Jessica Goldstein’s “Profile of Philip Levine, poet laureate” in the Washington Post this morning
And here are the beginning stanzas of one of my favorites of Levine’s poems, “You Can Have It.” The rest is online here at the Poetry Foundation site.
My brother comes home from work
and climbs the stairs to our room.
I can hear the bed groan and his shoes drop
one by one. You can have it, he says.
The moonlight streams in the window
and his unshaven face is whitened
like the face of the moon. He will sleep
long after noon and waken to find me gone.
Thirty years will pass before I remember
that moment when suddenly I knew each man
has one brother who dies when he sleeps
and sleeps when he rises to face this life,
and that together they are only one man
sharing a heart that always labors, hands
yellowed and cracked, a mouth that gasps
for breath and asks, Am I gonna make it?
– Opening stanzas of “You Can Have It,” by Philip Levine. Read the rest of the poem here.