Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Whitman of the Working Class: Philip Levine, Our New Poet Laureate. "An Extraordinary Morning"

The following is excerpted from the N.Y. Times and the Poetry Foundation :

August 11, 2011, 12:20 pm

Poetry Pairing | Celebrating Philip Levine

Philip Levine, 83, at home in Fresno, Calif., grew up in Detroit, where he held a long series of blue-collar jobs.Jim Wilson/The New York TimesPhilip Levine, 83, at home in Fresno, Calif., grew up in Detroit, where he held a long series of blue-collar jobs. Go to related article »

We interrupt our regularly scheduled Poetry Pairing today to celebrate the fact that Philip Levine, who writes “big-hearted, Whitmanesque poems about working-class Detroit,” has been named the next poet laureate.

This week we pair a poem of Mr. Levine’s, “An Extraordinary Morning,” with a piece by Dwight Garner, a book critic at The Times, about Mr. Levine’s work.

And we have further news: For the coming school year, we’re going to be tweaking this feature a bit.

We’ll still publish a weekly poem chosen by the Poetry Foundation paired with a Times article that echoes, extends or challenges the poem’s themes, but this year we’re going to mix up the selection of poems.

Starting on Aug. 18, each week we’ll begin alternating classic poems, the kind that appear in literature anthologies, with lesser-known contemporary poems.

We’re doing this because we want to impress upon students that the poems that have been taught in English class for eons still have something to say to us today — but we also want to introduce young people to new poems and poets.

We invite you to bring your classes to comment on our choices, as these students did recently. As always, we’d also love to know what you think about the changes. Please tell us here.

And now, today’s Poetry Pairing:




Philip Levine, just named the next United States poet laureate, writes poetry that speaks to and for everyday folks. His poetry has been noted for its realism and use of everyday speech. “An Extraordinary Morning” introduces readers to two hardworking twin brothers.

— Poetry Foundation

An Extraordinary Morning
By Philip Levine

Two young men — you just might call them boys —
waiting for the Woodward streetcar to get
them downtown. Yes, they’re tired, they’re also
dirty, and happy. Happy because they’ve
finished a short work week and if they’re not rich
they’re as close to rich as they’ll ever be
in this town. Are they truly brothers?
You could ask the husky one, the one
in the black jacket he fills to bursting;
he seems friendly enough, snapping
his fingers while he shakes his ass and sings
“Sweet Lorraine,” or if you’re put off
by his mocking tone ask the one leaning
against the locked door of Ruby’s Rib Shack,
the one whose eyelids flutter in time
with nothing. Tell him it’s crucial to know
if in truth this is brotherly love. He won’t
get angry, he’s too tired for anger,
too relieved to be here, he won’t even laugh
though he’ll find you silly. It’s Thursday,
maybe a holy day somewhere else, maybe
the Sabbath, but these two, neither devout
nor cynical, have no idea how to worship
except by doing what they’re doing,
singing a song about a woman they love
merely for her name, breathing in and out
the used and soiled air they wouldn’t know
how to live without, and by filling
the twin bodies they’ve disguised as filth.

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