Friday, January 15, 2010

Philip Levine and me

So we were watching a public tv news program the other night, and on came a poetry segment, Jeffrey Brown talking with Philip Levine, a poet I'd only very vaguely heard of and knew nothing about.

Now I realize that to some of our blogistas, this is about the same as my rushing in here and saying, listen, I discovered this terrific sonnet writer, and I think he's written plays, too, what's his name again, yes, William Shakestaff, no, I think I mean Wagspear. No, silly me, it's William Wagstaff, and he's really good...

Anyway in my own defense to those who have read and loved Levine for years, I have not always been au fait with modern poets, partly because I've been put off by poet nazi friends, the kind who insist in loud voices that you HAVE to LOVE poetry, and I admit I was even put off Mary Oliver by one of these pns who, when I casually mentioned that I wasn't much into reading poetry, ran and got a copy of a Mary Oliver and literally shoved it in my face. Had to duck to avoid being hit by it.

Which definitely cooled my ardor for the friend and the poet...then years later when I discovered Oliver for myself, I loved her, but had to come to her in my own time not because someone bullied me into it.

Likewise the poetry festivals which are surrounded by a lot of hoohah and posturing and stuff that has as much to do with poetry as sanding floors, but I digress....

Anyway, after we had listened to Levine talking naturally, winningly, and coming across as a wise and nice person, about his earlier life on the auto production line, later as a college professor, I got a couple of his books out, one for HP and one for me, from the library, just to get a taste.

And you know how once in a long while a writer will say something that you think, ohmygarsh this person said what's in my own mind, just did it for me. It's a magical connection, and rare and lovely. I had thought what I would do was read a poem, then knit a bit (currently knitting an afghan in squares, lambswool harvested in shades of pink, tan and white, important info) while thinking about the poem, so that the knitting would provide a backdrop to enable the thinking.

Then I realized after I had knitted about ten stitches, that Levine is one of those writers who sends you off in a mad rush of excitement to write about them, and in the process get all kinds of apparently unrelated art and writing ideas of your own going. It's that supercharged creative energy that comes flying at you from some art, some music, some writing. And it's right here in Levine. What a huge bonus. Can't tell you more yet, since telling tends to take the place of doing, but sooner or later, you'll see.

The collection I'm reading is News of the World, the poem that sent me off in a creative barndance is Our Valley. Literally it's about the Fresno area, a place I've never been only know they produce raisins or something there, but metaphorically it's about a place we all inhabit even if we haven't realized it yet. You can see it and smell it and live it by reading this little page.

Funny to think that I was sad and at loose ends after I mailed off the journal to Diane, on the first leg of her journey the other day, because my part in it was done for the moment, and I had that post-childbirth feeling of accomplishment and relief and pleasure and loss all at once. Once your art leaves you, even a small work like the journal, it's like when your child leaves your body -- he is his own person now. It's lonely and it's right, all at once.

So I was definitely ready for a new adventure, I think, and Philip Levine may very well have flung open a new door for me. I think he'd laugh quietly if he knew. Well, that's okay, I laugh at myself all the time.

Now I'm going to read Unholy Saturday and knit a bit....


  1. Well, what can I say? I don't read a lot of poetry myself but Mr. Levine certainly seems to have got your creative juices going. Can't be a bad thing.



  2. I wish poetry spoke to me more like this... like I wish art was something that really caught my eye. This post made me happy for you and sad for myself at the same time. :)

  3. Poetry nazis should be banned to the general nazi island. I love Mary Oliver too - and your blog! I found you through a rav forum, and subscribed.

  4. It is indeed a wonderful discovery. I'm a poem reader from way back, but few modern poets turn my crank. So few of them write poetry.


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