Jeffrey Brown profiles poet Philip Levine, a former auto worker who became a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet.
JEFFREY BROWN: We started out talking about your life in the factories. Many years later, you have made a life as a poet. Does that surprise you?
PHILIP LEVINE: Oh, God, yes. Oh, I mean, I’m stunned.
One of the things that made it happen was pure luck. On my 26th birthday, I met my present wife. And how many women could stay with a guy who has no prospects and wants to write poetry and stay with him now 55 years?
Sometimes, she worked, so that I can sit home and scribble. And she honors what I’m doing. And I think that is the most crucial thing, to be honored, as a poet, even if it — not by a nation, because a nation is an abstraction, but just to be honored by this person, or that person, or especially by your wife, or your brothers, or your mother, father, I mean, it’s just fantastic. It keeps you going in a way that nothing else could keep you going.
In 2008, New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority decided to suspend free access to ad space for the short poems selected by the Poetry Society of America.
So now the Poetry Society is paying for ad space, says the group’s executive director Alice Quinn, who is poetry editor for the New Yorker.
Quinn told CBC Radio’s Q cultural affairs show the society felt strongly that poetry was important, both to make commuters feel better, and improve the quality of life in the city.
“I think [poems] can be rediscovered anew on repeated readings in the crowded world of a commuter’s day,” she said in an interview Wednesday. “They provide more than solace, they provide a heart-stopping jolt. It’s just a very important and popular program.”
Quinn said she was mystified why the New York transit system ended Poetry in Motion, which was originally a free program. A transit official was quoted as saying she thought the society had “run out of poems.”
It may have been a matter of a new director wanting to put her stamp on operations, Quinn said.
Poetry in Motion had been in operation for 15 years and was a model for other such programs on transit systems across North America.
” I often saw people memorizing poems” while riding a bus or a subway, Quinn said.
The Poetry Society had to boost its fundraising to pay for ad space for its selection of poems.
Quinn said she thinks poetry is more popular now than it has been in 30 years, thanks in part to the music world.
“I think rap has helped poetry. Whenever you expose young children to it, they absolutely adore it. When you’re first learning speech, there is a lot of chiming that babies do rhyme is a very innate thing for us,” she said.
The poems planned for the transit system in 2010 include some Emily Dickinson, a 10th century Japanese poem, a 9th century Aztec poem and a “cheeky, chiding poem” by Stevie Smith called Deathbed of a Financier.
via CBC News
Finally, it seems, we are rising from the sick-bed of Metrophobia, and returning to poetry.