Pearls of wisdom from the new poet laureate of the United States

Levine at a reading in 2006 (Photo by David Shankbone via Creative Commons)

If award-winning poet Philip Levine isn’t just a regular guy, he sure acts the part well.

When the 83-year-old writer learned he was going to be the next poet laureate of the United States starting this October, he told the New York Times “it’s like winning the Pulitzer. If you take it too seriously, you’re an idiot.” (And Levine should know: He won a Pulitzer in 1995.)

Levine took that attitude to Tawes Hall last night, where he read some of his poetry as part of the Writers Here & Now speaker series. Author Carmen Boullosa also read a short story about a man who hailed a taxi and accidentally ate a Swedish ghost or something, but Levine was certainly the guest people were excited to see.

Some of his comments are listed here without commentary, which is still more commentary than I am authorized to give about poets and whatever it is they do all day.

On his nomination as poet laureate consultant in poetry to the Library of Congress: “I’ve been getting way too much attention lately.” (And yes, that’s really the full title.)

As he took off his blazer: “Now that I’m the poet laureate I have to go out and buy some clothes.” He also said he was “the world’s worst shopper,” because he picks out clothes that he thinks are nice but actually make him “look like shit.”

On watching his wife do the dishes: “You women who aren’t married yet, think seriously about a different life.”

On a reporter asking him if his sisters cared that he wrote poems about them: “They don’t care, because they don’t exist… It’s called ‘the imagination.'”

On seeing (and not understanding) a foreign translation of one of his books: “I looked at it and I thought ‘Hm, there’s a place I don’t need to visit.'”

On poet Hart Crane: “Crane, of course, was an alcoholic. He’s an American poet — you can almost assume that.”

As a student got up to leave: He told her she was going to miss some stuff, but added, “I haven’t gone to a poetry reading in 30 years.”

On wine: “I know you pour it in a glass and then in your mouth… and that it’s wonderful.”

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