Philip Levine named U.S. poet laureate

Philip Levine, a Pulitzer Prize winner who lives in Fresno, has been named the 18th poet laureate of the United States.

The appointment of Levine, who at 83 is one of the oldest poet laureates, was announced Aug. 10 by Librarian of Congress James Billington.

Philip Levine in 2006 photo/david shankbone

Levine is the author of 20 collections of poems, including “The Simple Truth,” for which he won the Pulitzer Prize in 1995. He taught for many years at CSU Fresno, where he is professor emeritus. He also taught at U.C. Berkeley and other universities.

He will assume laureate duties in the fall, and will open the Library of Congress’ annual literary season in Washington, D.C., with a reading of his work on Oct. 17.

“Philip Levine is one of America’s great narrative poets,” Billington said. “His plainspoken lyricism has, for half a century, championed the art of telling ‘The Simple Truth’ — about working in a Detroit auto factory, as he has, and about the hard work we do to make sense of our lives.”

Levine was born in Detroit in 1928 to Russian-Jewish immigrant parents and, according to the Jerusalem Post, he experienced anti-Semitism from a local pro-Hitler radio priest, Father Coughlin, when he was growing up. As a student, he worked industrial jobs at some auto-manufacturing plants.

During his factory days in his mid-20s, Levine wrote poems. “I believed even then that if I could transform my experience into poetry, I would give it the value and dignity it did not begin to possess on its own. I thought, too, that if I could write about it I could come to understand it; I believed that if I could understand my life — or at least the part my work played in it — I could embrace it with some degree of joy, an element conspicuously missing from my life.” — jta