Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Philip Levine: Poetry Right At The Center

Here is an interview with the US Poet Laureate Philip Levine talking about his approach to poetry which now spans over fifty years. Levine’s poetry and prose has been a tremendous influence on me over the last ten years, especially his insistence on honesty and memory and reading as important strands that contribute to making him a better poet. I keep several of Levine’s interviews and poetry readings on my Ipod and often will listen to them if I feel the world’s soul-hardening politics and pretensions encroaching, or if I feel poetry is losing its priority in my life. Here is an excerpt:

I’ll go back to tennis here. Once you learn to hit a certain shot, you can hit it every day. And I constantly read poetry: often for pleasure, but also for obligation—students, fellow poets, etc. And I go back to some of the poets whose influence was powerful with me. I re-read the “Song of Myself” probably every year. I read William Carlos Williams almost every week. I read the 16th-century poet Thomas Wyatt constantly, studying how he handles the line, how he shifts in tone. And the contemporaries whose work I love—Galway Kinnell. I read some stuff for inspiration and also to see how they do it, I’m just constantly reading.

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