Thursday, August 11, 2011

Poet Laureate Philip Levine

Yesterday the former Detroit factory worker, 83 year-old, Phillip Levine was named the 18th Poet Laureate of the United States and will begin his one year term in October. The PBS Newshour last evening replayed its interview, from last year, on Levine. In that profile, Levine credited his shift from the metal press to the pen, as “pure luck,” pure luck to have met his wife on his 26th birthday, who worked to support him while he wrote, and perhaps more importantly, Levine noted, “She honors what I’m doing. And I think that is the most crucial thing-- to be honored as a poet, not by a nation, because a nation is an abstraction, but just to be honored by this person or that person…”

His words “to be honored” struck a deep chord with me as an analyst because, for me,an analytic attitude includes, not interpretation as accusation but, love and acceptance, an honoring of all the patient has been through, utilizes in present day to cope, and will one day be. Levine asked incredulously about his wife of, then, 55 years, “How many women would stay with a guy who has no prospects and wants to write poetry…?” I was reminded of a fine marriage of analyst and analysand, sticking with one another through the rough and ready years, honoring each other and the work as best and as tenaciously as each can in minutes of uncertainty and pain, with the hope that something is in the process, like a poem, of becoming.

Here is an excerpt from Any Night

…I will have to learn
to sing in the voices of pure joy
and pure pain. I will have to forget
my name, my childhood, the years
under the cold dominion of the clock
so that this voice, torn and cracked,
can reach the low hills that shielded
the orange trees once. I will stand
on the back porch as the cold
drifts in, and sing, not for joy,
not for love, not even to be heard.
I will sing so that the darkness
can take hold and whatever
is left, the fallen fruit, the last
leaf, the puzzled squirrel, the child
far from home, lost, will believe
this could be any night. That boy,
walking alone, thinking of nothing
or reciting his favorite names
to the moon and stars, let him
find the home he left this morning,
let him hear a prayer out
of the raging mouth of the wind.
Let him repeat that prayer,
the prayer that night follows day,
that life follows death, that in time
we find our lives. Don't let him see
all that has gone. Let him love
the darkness. Look, he's running
and singing too. He could be happy.

Create Date: Monday, January 13, 2003
by Philip Levine

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