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Posts Tagged ‘Detroit’

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 »

Philip Levine, 1928–2015

February 15, 2015 | by

We were saddened to learn that Philip Levine died yesterday at eighty-seven. The U.S. poet laureate from 2011 to 2012, he composed poems that were, as Margalit Fox writes in the New York Times, “vibrantly, angrily, and often painfully alive with the sound, smell, and sinew of heavy manual labor.”

Levine grew up in industrial Detroit during the Depression; the son of Russian Jewish immigrants, he worked factory jobs for Cadillac and for Chevrolet. “You could recite poems aloud in there,” he told The Paris Review in 1988 of his time on the assembly line. “The noise was so stupendous. Some people singing, some people talking to themselves, a lot of communication going on with nothing, no one to hear.”

His time in those jobs would later inform one of his most enduring poems, “They Feed They Lion,” from the late sixties—you can hear him read it above. Levine explained the title in a 1999 interview with The Atlantic: Read More »

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Boswell’s Prurient Pastime, and Other News

September 19, 2014 | by

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  • Why is our vice president quoting Thomas Pynchon? In a speech in Des Moines, Joe Biden expounded on this bit of vintage paranoia, from Gravity’s Rainbow: “If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about answers.”
  • James Boswell had more hobbies than just following around Samuel Johnson; he was also “an inveterate execution goer in an age when such activity was considered prurient for a gentleman … Boswell diligently noted the names and crimes of the condemned: robbery, theft, escaping a prison hulk, forgery and murder. He describes a brother and sister convicted of burglary who met their deaths holding hands, only to be separated when they were cut down from the gallows.” He attended at least twenty-one executions, though they gave him nightmares and depressed him. The best hobbies (e.g., writing) often do.
  • At a recent school-board meeting in Murphy, Oregon: fuddy-duddies. “Some parents complained Tuesday night that students should not be allowed to read the book Persepolis without parental approval. The novel by Marjane Satrapi contains coarse language and scenes of torture, and it’s in high school libraries within the Three Rivers School District in southwest Oregon.” (“I’m boiling mad,” one parent said.)
  • The world’s oldest joke book, the Philogelos, dates to maybe the fourth century ADbut are its jokes funny today? The Internet has delivered its unassailable verdict: “kind of, sometimes.”
  • I’ve mentioned the Write a House project in this space before: it offers authors lifelong residencies in Detroit by renovating vacant homes and then simply giving them to writers. Now the first winner has been announced: the poet Casey Rocheteau, from Brooklyn.

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Clean-Living Canines, and Other News

May 23, 2014 | by

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Carl Reichert, Paar Doggen

  • Jane Austen read her own reviews, and took scrupulous notes: “Austen appears to have compiled the reactions of her readers from letters, hearsay, and direct conversations and recorded them on a set of closely written pages around 1815, before her death at the age of forty-one, two years later.”
  • From now till June 21, you can apply for a residency with Write A House, a new program with a terrific mission: to renovate homes in Detroit and then to give them, permanently, to writers. One of those writers may be you.
  • Dogs have a kind of moral code—one long hidden to humans until a cognitive ethologist named Marc Bekoff began to crack it … If three dogs are playing and one bites or tackles too hard, the other two are likely to give him the cold shoulder and stop playing with him, Bekoff says. Such behavior, he says, suggests that dogs are capable of morality, a mindset once thought to be uniquely human.”
  • Today in artificially intelligent cyborg assassin news: “a team of scientists destined to doom us all has developed the first bionic particles fusing organic materials and synthetic semiconductors, in a project they openly admit is ‘inspired by fictional cyborgs like the Terminator.’”
  • “In 1835, the Finnish linguist Elias Lönnrot published The Kalevala, a compilation of traditional epic poetry. In his home country, The Kalevala is now considered to be one of the most important works of literature of all time … Five photographers traveled to Kainuu in Northeast Finland, the birthplace of The Kalevala, and explored the mythology through contemporary photography.”

 

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The Horror, and Other News

December 20, 2013 | by

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  • Check out this new Heart of Darkness, illustrated by Matt Kish … if you dare.
  • By now you have  probably heard the allegations that Shia LaBeouf allegedly plagiarized a Daniel Clowes book. Then he plagiarized his apology. Now, there’s this.
  • This Detroit residency just gives writers houses. Forever.
  • The word Americans hate.
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    The Faint, Gray Areas

    August 23, 2013 | by

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    “‘It’s not black and white,’ a young doctor from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles had told me, in 1982, about the divide between life and death.”
    —Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking

    I had been avoiding the research, the further reading, about my father’s death. After discovering that the Detroit Police kept appealing the lawsuit, trying to pin the “accident” on the fourteen-year-old they were chasing before he crashed into my father’s car, I became depressed, and stopped digging. This was two days before Detroit declared bankruptcy. Before I heard about a man, Dwayne Provience, who was suing the city of Detroit for “accidentally” convicting him of a crime he did not commit. Now the city was bankrupt and his lawsuit was frozen, like the nine years of his life spent in prison. Provience’s lawsuit is for police misconduct, similar to the one that my mother filed after my father’s “accident,” but that was the late nineties. Provience said he wanted to use the potential money to pay off the child-support debt that had accumulated during his time away and to help pay for his children’s education. The insurance cities rely on in incidents like this, “accidents” like this, is exactly what allowed me to afford college. Read More »

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