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FOR THE WEEK OF AUG. 15, 2011

Former Michigan factory worker named U.S. poet laureate

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Poetic language pops up in journalistic prose when writers use metaphors and other elegant phrases. Look for colorful wording in editorials, features and even headlines.
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Can you spot coverage of another local, state or federal government arts program?
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Find a review or news report about any literary, visual or performance creativity.

A new federal appointee isn't a politician, regulator or bureaucrat. Philip Levine is more interested in poetry than policy, art instead of argument. The graduate of Detroit Public Schools and former Michigan factory worker last week became U.S. poet laureate for 2011-12, a position authorized by Congress in 1985. The duties sound simple, but also challenging: Spread appreciation of poems as worth reading and writing.

Levine, who lives in Fresno, Calif., and was selected by the Library of Congress, earns $35,000 to broaden the audience for poetry. Appointees generally deliver readings and other appearances around the country, as well as writing about the value of poetry. Levine's work reflects a background in a chemical plant, two auto factories and driving a truck. Later he taught English and writing at Harvard, Yale, the University of Michigan and California State.

James Billington, the Librarian of Congress, calls Levine "the laureate of the industrial heartland." (Laureate, which means someone who is honored, is pronounced LORE-ee-ATE.)
Levine won a 1995 Pulitzer Prize for The Simple Truth, one of about 20 book-length collections of his work. His free-form style tells stories without rhyming verses. Here's an excerpt from a poem titled Living in Music:
. . . We kids were kids,
the musicians were miserable, joyous, uncertain, young,
playing their hearts out. I was miserable, uncertain, young,
working my ass off for 3.25 an hour at Wyandotte Chemical,
the worst work I ever had. At height was the job description,
which left out the fact that it was terrifying. You'd look down to see
the ground waiting to receive your body as a religious object
but without the attending women in their long dresses
to hold up your flattened head and keen over your passing.

Poet laureate says: "I know a great many poems that I love and that most people have never heard of. Some of them are quite magnificent." -- Philip Levine

Official says: "He introduced me to a whole new world I hadn't connected to in poetry before. . . . It's a very, very American voice. I don't know that in other countries you get poetry of that quality about the ordinary workingman." -- James Billington, Librarian of Congress

Professor says: "He is America's most-acclaimed working-class poet. He will bring poetry to the people through his accessible and dimensional poems about the working class, Detroit and post-industrial America. . . . Phil will make a difference in how Americans see and understand poetry." -- M.L. Liebler, Wayne State University (Detroit)

Front Page Talking Points is written by Felix Grabowski and Alan Stamm for NIEonline.com, Copyright 2014
We welcome comments or suggestions for future topics: Click here to Comment

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