Detroit native Philip Levine named U.S. Poet Laureate

Aug 10, 2011

Detroit native Philip Levine is the country’s new poet laureate.

Levine was born in Detroit in 1928. As a student, he worked a number of jobs at Detroit’s auto plants, and he translated his experience into poetry. His poems depict life in Detroit and the working class in general.

"What Work Is" - introduction and reading by Philip Levine

"They Feed They Lion" - introduction and reading by Philip Levine

ML Liebler, a teacher at Wayne State University, is a fellow poet and friend of Levine’s. Liebler says he’s pleased and proud to see Levine honored in this way:

"For years and years people never considered working class literature or art to be of any significance, and with Phil in this position, he can now shine a major light on artists who are toiling in the working class vineyard and the labor vineyard."

Liebler says Levine is one of the great, living American poets, so it makes sense he was nominated. But he also says, given the "kind of writing and subject matter that [Levine] deals with, there could be some significance as to Levine being nominated at this particular time in history.

The U.S. Poet Laureate's one-term position starts in October and runs through May, according to a press release put out by the Library of Congress:

Levine will take up his duties in the fall, opening the Library’s annual literary season with a reading of his work at the Coolidge Auditorium on Monday, Oct. 17.

"Philip Levine is one of America’s great narrative poets," Billington said. "His plainspoken lyricism has, for half a century, championed the art of telling ‘The Simple Truth’—about working in a Detroit auto factory, as he has, and about the hard work we do to make sense of our lives."

The Poetry Foundation has Philip Levine reading a number of his poems, including What Work Is and Belle Isle, 1949