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Saturday, January 12, 2019

Speaking for the Downtrodden

“Meet some people who care about poetry the way you do. You'll have that readership. Keep going until you know you're doing work that's worthy. And then see what happens. That's my advice.” Philip Levine

Born on Jan. 10, 1928, Levine was one of the leading poetic voices of his generation, using his writing to advocate for those downtrodden and often forgotten by those in power. His heroes were ordinary folks who worked at hopeless jobs simply to stave off poverty.     Critic Herbert Leibowitz, commenting on Levine’s multiple award-winning Ashes: Poems New and Old, wrote: “Levine has returned again and again in his poems to the lives of ordinary workers trapped by the poverty and drudgery . . . which breaks the body and scars the spirit.”   For Saturday’s Poem here is Levine’s

An Abandoned Factory

The gates are chained, the barbed-wire fencing stands,
An iron authority against the snow,
And this grey monument to common sense
Resists the weather. Fears of idle hands,
Of protest, men in league, and of the slow
Corrosion of their minds, still charge this fence.

Beyond, through broken windows one can see
Where the great presses paused between their strokes
And thus remain, in air suspended, caught
In the sure margin of eternity.
The cast-iron wheels have stopped; one counts the spokes
Which movement blurred, the struts inertia fought,

And estimates the loss of human power,
Experienced and slow, the loss of years,
The gradual decay of dignity.
Men lived within these foundries, hour by hour;
Nothing they forged outlived the rusted gears
Which might have served to grind their eulogy.

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