The Library of Congress is set to name Philip Levine as the Poet Laureate of the United States for the fall ’10 to fall ’11 term, Chip McGrath writes in the Times. Levine, 83, grew up in Detroit, where he studied English at Wayne State and held down industrial jobs, on the GM assembly line and driving a truck, in the late 40s and early 50s, before leaving. In his essay “Nobody’s Detroit,” the forward to the photo collection Detroit Disassembled, Levine recalls returning to visit in 1982, and coming upon a retired automaker tending a vegetable garden in an abandoned lot, who tells him, “All the smart ones left.” (This was, he says, the basis of the title poem of his 1988 collection A Walk with Tom Jefferson.) The piece, like much of Levine’s poetry, is an elegy for his hometown, an America city heavy with personal and national symbolic significance, ever in stages of decline, renewal, loss.
I’m also a fan of Levine’s poem “Animals Are Passing from Our Lives,” a funny, vivid poem about the sensual world and pride in the face of death, narrated by a pig being led to slaughter. And then there’s “Gin,” which I was going to try to quote from, but I can’t choose, you’re just going to have to read the whole thing. (Ok, one: “My brother swiped the bottle from a guy whose father owned a drug store that sold booze in those ancient, honorable days when we acknowledged the stuff was a drug.” And another: “Ahead lay cigarettes, the futility of guaranteed programs of exercise, the elaborate lies of conquest no one believed, forms of sexual torture and rejection undreamed of.” Just read it.)