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Tuesday, January 10, 2023

'Write what's given to you to write'


“Now I think poetry will save nothing from oblivion, but I keep writing about the ordinary because for me it's the home of the extraordinary, the only home.” – Philip Levine

Born on this date in 1928, Levine (who died in 2015) was best known for his poems about working-class Detroit.  A Pulitzer Prize winner and onetime U.S. Poet Laureate, Levine also taught for more than 30 years in the English department of California State University, Fresno.  

The son of auto workers, Levine started his own working life in an auto plant, but then took night classes at Wayne State and eventually turned to poetry as his writing outlet.  Since he had grown up in working class neighborhoods, they became his primary focus.  “I write what’s given me to write,” he said.  “Memory has always been fundamental for me.  In fact, remembering what I had forgotten is the way most of the poems get started.”

As for advice to would-be poets, he noted, “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.”

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