Philip Levine gives a reading in New York. David Shankbone/Wikimedia
Philip Levine gives a reading in New York. David Shankbone/Wikimedia

UPDATED: Listen to an extended version of Rachael Myrow’s interview with new US poet laureate, Fresno State’s Philip Levine. An edited version aired on this morning’s The California Report.

The Simple Truth: Philip Levine, a longtime poetry professor at Fresno State University, has been named the country’s next poet laureate. The Central Valley resident will take the baton, or pen, from W.S. Merwin.

It’s a one year position for the 83-year-old who has won many of poetry’s top prizes. The Fresno Bee has a great story with Levine talking about the honor, which he had reportedly been considered for in past years:

“Actually, because of my age, I just assumed that I had been found wanting some years ago,” Levine said Tuesday with a typical dose of self-deprecation. “I didn’t even think about it much.”

The job description includes giving an annual lecture, introducing poets in the library’s annual poetry series and raising “the national consciousness to a greater appreciation of the reading and writing of poetry.”

It does not involve actually writing any poems, a common misconception that again brings up a lighthearted Levine riff. “I don’t know if they’d want me writing for official events,” Levine said. “A poem to Congress? No, thank you.”

The story goes on to talk about his ties to Fresno:

Levine was born in Detroit and started teaching at Fresno State in 1958. The university didn’t even have a creative writing program at the time. His close friend and fellow poet Peter Everwine, who taught with Levine for many years, said the poet laureate designation is a significant honor for Levine that caps a long and distinguished career. And it means more bragging rights for the university.

Besides bragging rights, Levine has inspired and mentored countless young poets at Fresno State.  One of Levine’s recent students, Sasha Pimentel Chacon, was named a winner of the American Book Award last month for her first poetry collection, Insides She Swallowed.  She is one in a long line of Levine’s former students at Fresno State who have won national poetry awards.

Tomorrow morning, on the California Report you can hear a conversation between Levine and host Rachael Myrow about his poetry, the Central Valley and becoming the next poet laureate. Tune in at 6:50 or 8:50 AM for that.

If you can’t wait, here is an NPR profile of Levine from 2005, when his collection Breathe: Poems, was released.

You can also listen to Garrison Keillor reading some of Levine’s poems.

The AP ran a poetic article about Levine and his attachment and interest in Fresno back in 2006.

Updated: Central Valley Poet Gets National Honor 11 August,2011Rachel Dornhelm

  • gregorio n

    it’s a disservice to poetry to list a link to garrison keillor’s poetry in this article about philip levine. that must mean you guys equate keillor as a poet to levine – or are you saying that poetry is a lost art (it is, actually) and garrison keillor is more palatable? i have to admit i’ve never heard keillor’s poetry — but i have briefly listened to his trite radio program.

    • Hi Gregorio,
      Thanks for your comment. The link is actually to Garrison Keillor reading Levine’s poetry. Apologies for the confusion. We’ve made a change in the text to make this clearer.
      Gretchen Weber
      (KQED Multimedia Producer)

  • Yolanda

    With all due respect and gratitude for your shows I must say that I took great offense in Philip Levine’s comments about his students having nothing to lose because they were already losers simply because they were at CSUF!
    I personally feel offended due to the fact that I graduated with my BA and my MA from CSUF as did my husband and my daughter and the majority of my colleagues. Having grown up in Parlier, a small rural community in Fresno Co., I always felt, as did many of my classmates, that I had beaten the odds. My education at CSUF was above caliber and an opportunity I never considered a “last resort”. I had opportunities to go to other universities but my family ties were here in the Central Valley, my home, my people, and professors who knew and appreciated my skillsets, my needs and my cultural background… Mr. Levine, who makes his living with his words, needs to take a better approach to his commentary in the future regarding his students, OUR university, my colleagues and fellow classmates.


Rachel Dornhelm

Rachel Dornhelm has worked as a reporter, editor and producer in public radio for the last twelve years. She got her start in New York City at WNYC and went on to work with the national business program Marketplace, WBUR’s “On Point” and KQED News in San Francisco. Her work has been honored by the LA Press Club and the SF-Peninsula Press Club.

Rachel has a BA with honors in anthropology from Rice University and did graduate work at NYU.

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