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Posts Tagged ‘anger’

My Lost Poet

February 23, 2015 | by

Anger and tenderness in Philip Levine.

Photo: Frances Levine

In the spring of 2012, Philip Levine delivered a lecture at the Library of Congress called “My Lost Poets,” marking the end of his tenure as the eighteenth U.S. poet laureate. In the talk, which was later published in Five Points, Georgia State University’s literary journal, Levine takes us to Wayne University’s Miles Poetry Room in 1948, where, once a month, he and other aspiring poets gathered to talk shop and critique one another’s work. The group comprised four World War II vets and a number of Wayne University students, including a young man who would eventually be drafted to the Korean War, a narcissistic Hart Crane wannabe, a rural Southern Baptist woman from Kentucky, and a young black man obsessed with Walt Whitman. In the wake of the war, Levine explained, the group found urgency and vitality in poetry, regardless of their respective talents. This poetic camaraderie was short-lived, though. The Hart Crane fanboy died in a car wreck at an early age; the Southern Baptist disappeared into the jungles of Latin America; the Whitman worshiper saw his idealism dissolve in the face of fifties-era politics and Jim Crow laws. Still, it was these people, along with the war poets he discovered during that time, who helped shape Levine’s own poetic voice.

That voice, when he finally found it, decried the injustices of our society, of working-class life in particular, lending Levine’s experience a “value and dignity it did not begin to possess on its own.” Unlike his great hero, Walt Whitman, Levine doesn’t seem to stand over us, exalting and exalted. Instead, he’s always among the multitude bearing witness to the historical moment. He looks out every so often to address his reader with a plural or a singular you that invites us to share his vision, expanding our own. His poems are full of unrealized dreams, with auxiliary verbs—would, could, should—signaling inevitable disappointments or a foreboding sense of what’s to come. This dissonance between one’s idealistic fantasies and reality conjure a tremendous anger in his work, evident especially in his earlier poems about factory life in Detroit. Read More »

Three Angry Women

May 9, 2014 | by

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Last weekend I had brunch with my mother, and she related an incident from the day of the interboro bike race. My mom was walking through Central Park and found her way, and the way of several other pedestrians, blocked by an apologetic young race marshal, who explained that certain paths were closed to accommodate cyclists. “But this is my circuit!” screamed an elderly woman. “Pardon my French, BUT I’M SCREWED!”

“It was extremely unpleasant,” said my mother. “I guess my generation can take yet another bow.”

Several days later, I was at the AT&T store, where a salesperson was patiently answering my questions about my newly upgraded phone. A lady of perhaps eighty, wearing black orthopedic shoes and carrying a cane, came in and sat down in the chair next to mine. From what I gathered, the young man helping her (“Franz”) was trying to explain that a cellular plan would be less expensive than the landline she currently used. “But I need my phone on my bedside table!” she kept saying, and refused to accept the fact that the cellular phone could, indeed, sit on her bedside table, or indeed anywhere else. Where would she plug it in? She demanded. Her outlet was under her bed! The young man seemed unfazed by this inquisition. And yet, after a few minutes she screamed, “If you keep wasting my time, I’m going to beat the crap out of you!” Read More »