Poet Laureates of the World Unite!

Poet Laureates of the World Unite! by Andrew Stergiou

Movie director Mohsen Makhmalba protests


In seemingly unrelated protests movie director Mohsen Makhmalbaf gestures during a press conference at the Foreign Press Club, as hundreds of musicians, actors, filmmakers, poets and writers have spoken out against the government for its suppression of dissent.

One TV producer says that since the election, authorities have unofficially barred actors who are considered unacceptable from appearing on shows.

“They tell us ‘give us a list of artists you want to use.’ When we give them the list, they say, ‘This and this person are not suitable,’ ” said the producer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.

The headlines of the United States “newspaper of record” the New York Times, authoritatively stated unceremoniously as matters of fact, before the facts, as if the facts can be divined, without a statement of fact or substantiation that:

“The Library of Congress will announce on Wednesday that Philip Levine, best known for his big-hearted, Whitmanesque poems about working-class Detroit, is to be the next poet laureate, succeeding W. S. Merwin”

Strangely the word used by the “New York Times” to hacked into modern usage was the unoriginal boring trite term of “Whitmanesque”, as in Nixonesque, Washingtonesque et cetera, to describe what the author could have to describe poetry, but did not in stereotyping it.

That further more was dully used to describe “poems about working-class Detroit” (in reference to Mr. Phillip Levine) since it is not know to me that any Whitmans ever settled or visited Detroit, and no the less that suffices to characterize and describe Detroit as Carl Sandburg, wrote about a part of the Chicago soul so lacking in good poetry today.

Now I do not know Mister Phillip Levine I suppose that I would be pleased to meet his acquaintance which I may forgive as if an innocent, but reference to iconoclastic Walt Whitman in the same breath without more is inexcusable for which an apology seems required. It is announced that:


Who, what, why, where, how?

In what was redundantly relayed in the New York Times, as news and as if they were the official mouthpiece of the Library of Congress by an article of  Charles McGrath,  published August 9, 2011, who is not believed to be of any relation to the poet writer Thomas McGrath, whom I had met and known. As Mr. McGrath was a poet writer of great note, as he was a family acquaintance once blacklisted by the House Un-American Activities Committee for his radical views which undoubtedly was not considered for his work posthumously.

“A large, ironic Whitman of the industrial heartland” according to Edward Hirsch in the New York Times Book Review, Philip Levine is one of the elder statesmen of contemporary American poetry. The son of Russian-Jewish immigrants, Levine was born and raised in industrial Detroit.

Which is no reason to take for granted the circumstances of great fortune that Phillip Levine has come into as it appears he is making out as to say as if he were a member of the “Purple Gang” that he expresses in interviews:

“As a young boy in the midst of the Great Depression of the 1930s, he was fascinated by the events of the Spanish Civil War. His heroes were not only those individuals who struggled against fascism but also ordinary folks who worked at hopeless jobs simply to stave off poverty Noted for his interest in the grim reality of blue-collar work and workers, Levine resolved ‘to find a voice for the voiceless’ while working in the auto plants of Detroit during the 1950s. “I saw that the people that I was working with…were voiceless in a way,” he explained in Detroit Magazine.
(Poetry Foundation Phillip Levine Biography

Admirably he states:

“In terms of the literature of the United States they weren’t being heard. Nobody was speaking for them. And as young people will, you know, I took this foolish vow that I would speak for them and that’s what my life would be. And sure enough I’ve gone and done it. Or I’ve tried anyway…”

Without misunderstanding the precision of Mr. Levine’s intent, so that now I ask now the people be heard not in condescending patronizing terms, as in those “spoken for” as in being “unheard” as the people do speak, read and write, more so than ever before, though they are none the less unheard.

Phillip Levine was “selected from a long list of nominees by James Billington, the librarian of Congress, who said on Monday, “I find him an extraordinary discovery because he introduced me to a whole new world I hadn’t connected to in poetry before.”

“He’s the laureate, if you like, of the industrial heartland,” Mr. Billington added. “It’s a very, very American voice. I don’t know that in other countries you get poetry of that quality about the ordinary workingman.” Referring to Mr. Levine’s ironic and self-effacing nature, he said: “This wasn’t really a factor in the choice, but he doesn’t seem to have that element of posing that I suppose we all suffer from to one degree or another. He has that well under control.”
(Voice of the Workingman to Be Poet Laureate, Ibid. New York Times)

Expressionistically Phillip Levine seemed to appear to allow his good fortune go to his head generalizing in explanation that “It’s like winning the Pulitzer. If you take it too seriously, you’re an idiot. But if you look at the names of the other poets who have won it, most of them are damn good.” — Philip Levine” (New York Times Ibid.).

As Mr. Levine has not done for these matters any great proper justice in speaking for the fact of the matter is the cultural institutions of the country has existed almost solely as a fraud this is not to say Mr. Levine is a fraud though he could be and his response to this will be telling.

As the “.Newspaper of record is a term that may refer either to any publicly available newspaper that has been authorized by a government to publish public or legal notices (often known as a newspaper of public record), or any major newspaper that has a large circulation and whose editorial and news-gathering functions are considered professional and typically authoritative” (Wikipedia) does not mean the New York Times accurately  prints “All the news that’s fit to print” nor prints “All the news that’s fit to print”.

As “the supreme arbiter” of poetry for citizens of the United States at the head of a pecking order which relates less so to lyrics and advertising copy as much as art, literature and poetry, representing all citizens. As Phillip Levine “was selected from a long list of nominees by James Billington, the librarian of Congress, who said on Monday, “I find him an extraordinary discovery because he introduced me to a whole new world I hadn’t connected to in poetry before.” (New York Times Ibid.).

“He’s the laureate, if you like, of the industrial heartland,” Mr. Billington added. “It’s a very, very American voice. I don’t know that in other countries you get poetry of that quality about the ordinary workingman.” Referring to Mr. Levine’s ironic and self-effacing nature, he said: “This wasn’t really a factor in the choice, but he doesn’t seem to have that element of posing that I suppose we all suffer from to one degree or another. He has that well under control.” (New York Times Ibid.).

I do not argue against as was said “A GRITTY VOICE OF THE WORKINGMAN TO BE POET LAUREATE ” (New York Times, ibid.), nor do I argue  in that he is a youthful 83, but I argue against a cultural system which intrinsically and inevitably unfair, is unjust and corrupt by either one means or another, based in its institutions rather than in its people.

Phillip Levine has been awarded:
1995 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry – The Simple Truth”
1991 National Book Award – What Work Is
1979 National Book Critics Circle Award Ashes: Poems New and Old
1979 American Book Award for Poetry – Ashes: Poems New and Old
1979 National Book Critics Circle Award – 7 Years from Somewhere
1975 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize “The Names of the Lost”
1987 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize
Harriet Monroe Memorial Prize from Poetry
Frank O’Hara Prize
Two Guggenheim Foundation fellowships
2011 Appointed Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress (United States Poet Laureate).

Yet still I apologetically I stress this is not sufficient recognition in a society based upon it rank, privilege, office, compensation, lineage, based on money, religious persuasions and political sects, and as such I object and suppose Mr. Levine should object also.

Except that in having had his share of work employed once upon a time “at industrial jobs, c. 1950s” (Poetry Foundation bio)


Perhaps I may be am an unkempt, crude and vulgar uncouth scoundrel, but for the last 56 years Phillip Levine has  graced academia with nostalgia on the
“working class” not products of the “working class” as I would not habitually desire to add liar to all the unsavory descriptions which may be used in describing me. As Mr. Phillip Levine’s employment history:

University of Iowa, Iowa City, member of faculty, 1955-57; California State University, Fresno, professor of English, 1958-92; Tufts University, Medford, MA, professor of English, 1981-88. Elliston Professor of Poetry, University of Cincinnati, 1976; poet-in-residence, National University of Australia, Canberra, summer, 1978, and Vassar College; visiting professor of poetry, Columbia University, 1978, 1981, 1984, New York University, 1984 and 1991, and Brown University, 1985; teacher at Princeton University, Columbia University, Squaw Valley Writers Community, Bread Loaf, and Midnight Sun. Has read his poetry at the Library of Congress, Poetry Center of San Francisco, Pasadena Art Gallery, Guggenheim Museum, Princeton University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Michigan, University of California, Stanford University, Wayne State University, University of Iowa, San Francisco State University, Harvard University, Yale University, Brown University, and other schools. Chair of literature board, National Endowment for the Arts, 1984-85.

Is all very misleading for some one purported to be “A GRITTY VOICE OF THE WORKINGMAN” (New York Times, Ibid.) not a “workingman’s voice”, but by classical definition a professional academic intellectual employed by the elite of ruling class educational institutions of the United States and the international ruling class.

In that I do not want to automatically bash members of academia, perhaps this is where it gets complicated as I seem to recall Albert Einstein was a union member as:

“Many well-known Americans have been AFT members.” (American Federation of Teachers web site)

Where though the institutions of Ivory towers may not be working class those whose grace those hall may be working class, though not as members of the industrial working class, nor would they represent the working class’s views, but instead voices in the  working class. But the question is which voice as there are many voices please forgive me for indulging this train of thought for strangely I found few political references online which relates Mr. Philip Levine’s poetry to political views, but:

finding no political views,
within dull prose written,
one ponders but never smitten,
rhyme of which poems derived,
in death knells,
as a Philip screwdriver by my side,
held tight, right,
thrust Levine forward from shallow soil,
planted as seeds, as words and lies,
nurtured, seasoned and contrived,
Joseph Brodsky surpasses,
boiled cabbage, dirty underwear,
unshaven, unkempt uncouth,
for though one does not “go gently into that good  night”
one is dragged in by the cat,

Generally poetry is emotionally based of figurative and expressive meaning but as so often we have not found some boring explanation of those there could never be an understanding of those feelings. As one like Mr. Billington can presume to think that one represents the other this is not specifically true though it may be. I taking “the road less taken” derive my pleasure from rejecting what others rejoice in, in contemplating what others do not reflect,  and express what is solely my own in what George Orwell came to understand though acted wrongly in addressing:

George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language,” 1946

Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way, but it is generally assumed that we cannot by conscious action do anything about it. Our civilization is decadent and our language — so the argument runs — must inevitably share in the general collapse. It follows that any struggle against the abuse of language is a sentimental archaism, like preferring candles to electric light or hansom cabs to aeroplanes. ***

As I should think perhaps of my own, of poets, poetry, literature, the working class and misery as if it is all for some other surreal dream called a nightmare in that the poet jester becomes king, and the king becomes a poet jester.

For apologetically being tired, in need, slept in need of rest, waken when rested, without precise memories, of the pain, the night before, that was the next day, not a new day, my underwear stick again to the bottom,
until life ends, not when the New York Times goes to press, nor when the Librarian and Library of Congress have spoken.

For it is not as Mister Philip Levine implies:

“As the country’s new poet laureate, Mr. Levine said he hoped to spend the one-year term resurrecting ‘the enormous number of forgotten poets out there.’ ” but the context in which they are resurrected for a hodgepodge of dead flesh so resurrected by Mary Shelley, is not  Percy Bysshe Shelley, but Frankenstein, on which basis Shelley survived.

So don’t ask me I can say I hate capitalism that crooked yardstick against which all is measured that does not one justice, in what is manifest perpetually in those who wish to ban books like Tom Sawyer and Soul on Ice.


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