Philip Levine, a native Michigander, Detroit poet and author of several University of Michigan Press books, has been named poet laureate of the United States.
“How can I put it? It’s like winning the Pulitzer,” he told The New York Times. “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.”
Levine is the author of several collections of essays on poetry for the UM Press as part of its celebrated Poets on Poetry series, including Don’t Ask, So Ask, and the memoir The Bread of Time. UM Press also published On the Poetry of Philip Levine, the first critical collection to focus on his work, edited by Christopher Buckley as part of the Press series Under Discussion.
He was chosen as Poet Laureate by James Billington, the librarian of Congress. Born in Detroit, many of his most popular poems concern the travails of the working class in that city. He is the author of some 20 poetry collections, including The Simple Truth, his fifteenth collection, which won a Pulitzer Prize. The title poem from that collection is widely quoted online:
you know all your life. They are so simple and true
they must be said without elegance, meter and rhyme,
they must be laid on the table beside the salt shaker,
the glass of water, the absence of light gathering
in the shadows of picture frames, they must be
naked and alone, they must stand for themselves.