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.