Friday, August 12, 2011

US Names 2011 Poet Laureate

A poet laureate is a poet officially appointed by a government and is often expected to compose poems for State occasions and other government events. The United States Library of Congress has since 1937 appointed an official Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress until 1984, when, in an Act of Congress, changed the name of the position in 1985 to Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. Hmmm, doesn't seem different enough to me to require an Act of Congress. But who am I to say? US laureates receive a $35,000 stipend and are given the responsibility of overseeing an ongoing series of poetry readings and lectures at the library, and a charge to promote poetry.  When first instituted, the stipend was a lot of money to allow the poet laureate to devote his/her time to writing. The laureate is not required to compose for government events or in praise of government officials. Except after the 9/11 attacks, then Poet Laureate, Billy Collins was asked to write a poem to be read in front of a special joint session of Congress. He wrote The Names which he read on September 6, 2002.

Back to the present.  On August 9, the Library of Congress named Philip Levine to the one-year position. He succeeds W. S. Merwin. Mr. Levine was born in Detroit in 1928 and has used his poetry to examine blue-collar life. He was a student of the Detroit public school system and went on to study at Wayne University. After graduation, Levine worked a number of industrial jobs in, you guessed it, auto factories. He wrote in his off hours. In 1953 he studied at the University of Iowa, eventually earning his MFA degree from the Iowa Writers' Workshop. He published his first collection of poems, On the Edge in 1963 and has been writing ever since. He taught for many years at California State University, Fresno, and has served as Distinguished Poet in Residence for the Creative Writing Program at New York University. He's now retired from teaching and currently divides his time between Brooklyn, NY and Fresno, CA.

Other collections by Philip Levine:
As an editor/co-editor

My heartfelt congratulations to Mr. Levine.

Happy reading,



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