An appraisal of the new poet laureate, Philip Levine, mentions Bukowski (1 Viewer)

zoom man

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Here's the full article

Here's the Bukowski reference -> He's no Bukowski. Mr. Levine once said: "I'm so weary of that anti-intellectual stance: I'm just standing here suckin' on a beer writin' these lines until the pool room opens. I love intelligent poetry "” Stevens, Ammons, Tom Sleigh, Robert Morgan."

Anyone familiar with him? The selections I've read, I really like.

Here's one of those too

Salt and Oil

Three young men in dirty work clothes
on their way home or to a bar
in the late morning. This is not
a photograph, it is a moment
in the daily life of the world,
a moment that will pass into
the unwritten biography
of your city or my city
unless it is frozen in the fine print
of our eyes. I turn away
to read the morning paper and lose
the words. I go into the streets
for an hour or more, walking slowly
for even a man of my age. I buy
an apple but do not eat it.
The old woman who sells it remarks
on its texture and tartness, she
laughs and the veins of her cheeks brown.
I stare into the river while time
refuses to move. Meanwhile the three
begin to fade, giving up
their names and voices, their auras
of smoke and grease, their acrid bouquets.
We shall name one to preserve him,
we shall name him Salt, the tall blond
whose wrists hurt, who is holding back
something, curses or tears, and shaking
out the exhaustion, his blue eyes
swollen with sleeplessness, his words
blasted on the horn of his breath.
We could go into the cathedral
of his boyhood and recapture
the voices that were his, we could
reclaim him from the brink of fire,
but then we would lose the other,
the one we call Oil, for Oil
broods in the tiny crevices
between then and now, Oil survives
in the locked archives of the clock.
His one letter proclaims, "My Dear
President, I would rather not . . ."
One arm draped across the back
of Salt, his mouth wide with laughter,
the black hair blurring the forehead,
he extends his right hand, open
and filthy to take rusted chains,
frozen bearings, the scarred hands
of strangers, there is nothing
he will not take. These two are not
brothers, the one tall and solemn,
the long Slavic nose, the pale eyes,
the puffed mouth offended by the press
of traffic, while the twin is glad
to be with us on this late morning
in paradise. If you asked him,
"Do you calm the roiling waters?"
he would smile and shake his great head,
unsure of your meaning. If you asked
the sources of his glee he would shrug
his thick shoulders and roll his eyes
upward to where the turning leaves
take the wind, and the gray city birds
dart toward their prey, and flat clouds
pencil their obscure testaments
on the air. For a moment
the energy that makes them who
they are shatters the noon's light
into our eyes, and when we see
again they are gone and the street
is quiet, the day passing into
evening, and this is autumn
in the present year. "The third man,"
you ask, "who was the third man
in the photograph?" There is no
photograph, no mystery,
only Salt and Oil
in the daily round of the world,
three young men in dirty work clothes
on their way under a halo
of torn clouds and famished city birds.
There is smoke and grease, there is
the wrist's exhaustion, there is laughter,
there is the letter seized in the clock
and the apple's tang, the river
sliding along its banks, darker
now than the sky descending
a last time to scatter its diamonds
into these black waters that contain
the day that passed, the night to come.

"” From "The Mercy," by Philip Levine (Alfred A. Knopf, 1999).
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I like Levine, have one of his books. but that is a stupid and shortsighted statement made out of ignorance.
Here's what I know. Half way through the above poem I'm looking for the end....and still don't care about the three (or was it two) men. Intelligent poetry, intelligent music, intelligent sunrises?? what ev
well, skip to the end. the last 4 lines are fine. or the end of this one. if you get bored, skip to the last 5 lines.
That poem: Yawn. It wouldn't fly at a local open mic. Boring and pretentious. The world is FULL of that type of poet, but not so many readers want it. I couldn't make it to the end. If the end is good he should have cut most of the rest. Another poet laureate to ignore.
What's ironic, and what Levine and his ilk will never admit, is that their poetry is just as formulaic and predictable and dull as the poetry they insult. Admittedly I've only seen the two Levine poems in this thread, but I could write you an imitation of them in about 20 minutes, and you wouldn't know it wasn't Levine. Or some other intelligent poet.

These kind of intelligent poets are enamored with themselves, with every word they type, and their poetry is indulgent and pretentious. And worse than that, it is predictable and boring.
Let's see, Bukowski read and mentions Li Po, Catullus, Rabelais, Celine, Fante, Saroyan, Steinbeck, Dos Passos, Tu Fu, Artaud, Camus, Genet, Conrad Aiken, Jeffers, cummings, Pound, Miller, Dostoyevsky, Turgenev, Gorky, W.H. Auden, Sherwood Anderson, Salinger, Faulkner, Boccaccio, Ginsberg, Corso, Orwell, T.S. Eliot, Ferlinghetti, Hamsun, Hemingway, Huxley, Lawrence, Kafka, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, McCullers, Neruda, John Crowe Ransom, Sartre, Dylan Thomas, Thurber, Villon....And that's just off the top of my head. Sounds "anti-intellectual", eh? It's not clear from the article if he is saying that about Bukowski or the author of the article is saying it. If Levine DID say it, it seems odd since "I'm just suckin' on a beer writin' these lines until the pool room opens" doesn't exactly sound like Buk to me....
Poet. Worked variously at industrial jobs, c. 1950s; University of Iowa, Iowa City, member of faculty, 1955-57; California State University, Fresno, professor of English, 1958-92;
Bukowski wrote often about this type of career
Another academic poet. Somehow I figured he would be. Let me see. He also won a bunch of literary awards, and his books have been published by university presses and all those "quarterlies." He gives lectures and teaches workshops. No, I haven't read his bio. I'm guessing. How close am I? I stopped reading that bunch early on and have never regretted it.
man, you sound as bad as the intellectual snobs, the guys who won't read Bukowski because they think he's a drunk gutter poet. opinions of ignorance.

give me ten poems with no names or bios and I'll tell you whether I like them or not, not if I thought they taught a writing workshop or worked cleaning toilets in the 7-11.

now, if you'll excuse me, I have a 11:00 class!
The workshops are just symptomatic. I decided to ignore the academics after finding their poetry is invariably mediocre and lacks impact. I didn't begin prejudiced against them simply because they are academics. I don't read them because I've found it's always the same: over-worked, precious, never arrives.

Bukowski is popular because his writing has a powerful impact on readers. It's that simple. He was able to do that because he was extremely intelligent and savy. He had good instincts. He could smell bullshit a mile away and avoided it in his work.

Give me 10 poems with no names and I think I'd be able to sort them into academic poets and the non-academics, based on the level of pretentious filler, but I could be wrong. No, I don't want to be tested on that.
his writing has a powerful impact on readers.

that's excellent criteria for judging all writing.

don't get me wrong, I'm not defending academic poets per say, I'm just saying there is shit everywhere. open up a small mag and count the shitty Bukowski imitations. those people aren't defenders of the Church of Holy Street Smarts, they are posing as much as the John Berryman (or pick someone) imitators.

shit is shit, no matter what ass it comes from.
Okay. I went back and read the whole poem "Salt and Oil". The end did nothing for me. None of it did. In the article (via the link above) it says "Speaking about his work, Mr. Levine has been direct about his unpretentious diction. His ideal poem, he has said, is one in which "no words are noticed."" Well, I noticed a lot of lard in his words, such as "flat clouds /pencil their obscure testaments / on the air." And ""If you asked him, / "Do you calm the roiling waters?"
he would smile and shake his great head, /unsure of your meaning." And ""the river / sliding along its banks, darker /now than the sky descending / a last time to scatter its diamonds / into these black waters[...]" I mean, crap is crap. Excuse me, but that poem is crap.

Yes, you'll find a fair amount of shit in the little mags, but it's less self-important shit, less comfortable, "every door is open to success" shit. What I often see in the small press is uncertainty, lack of confidence, private cryptic statements, confusion, lack of focus, amature imitation, but give me any little zine over any academic quarterly.
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finally! you're judging a poem by actually reading it, not by thinking you won't like it because he taught a university course. that's what I've been getting at, you're arriving at your opinion based on his words, not his CV.
Well, yeah. When I saw the thread, I remembered Levine as a poet someone recommended to me decades ago, who I thought might be somewhat interesting, but wasn't. I had no further opinion until I read half of the above poem, and realized what he was doing -- the standard academic drill. I guessed about the awards (it's true -- I checked Wikipedia and he's won a bunch). Returning to the poem, it was about what I expected, although the ending was flat. I was expecting some small bump, some punch there. I wasn't judging him based on his resume. I was guessing his resume based on half a poem. And it was a pretty good guess. I didn't guess "the workingman" angle mentioned in the Wiki article. That was a surprise. No signs of that in the poem above.

I'm not in favor of prejudging writers based on their bios, but with the academics, you can smell the horseshit from miles away.

well, skip to the end. the last 4 lines are fine. or the end of this one. if you get bored, skip to the last 5 lines.

Tried that one. No better than the first. His poems remind me of the better stuff you see in college writing classes. They are okay. He can turn a phrase. He's obviously pleased with his use of language. He's telling a story, not a very interesting one, and I don't give a damn about the people in the story, or the teller. There are a few winks -- he has some "style". Honestly, he couldn't win the poetry contests we used to run at the local bookstore (now out of business) my wife used to work at, because there would be 20 other poets just as "good" that had the same limp impact. I'm not buying it. No offense, hoochmonkey. You're just more accepting (or tolerant, or patient) a reader than I am.
I don't mind that you don't like Levine. differing opinions don't bug me. just read it and then tell me you don't like it. like you're now doing.
hoochmonkey: Ignore me today. I really know nothing about Levine. I just needed to blow off steam and kicking him was handy. I'll try reading him again on a better day. I have been through some extreme stress lately (won't burden you with it here) and that's when I find it too tempting to rip into someone, anyone. At some point during such episodes, I catch myself, but not before I've said a bunch of stuff that I might later regret. You're right: read it first, then decide.
I guess I don't expect anyone who is even considered for Poet Laureate to be anything but an academic writer... Just as I don't expect NEA grants or the bulk of awards and stipends and fellowships to go to any of us gutter-drunk layabouts. Every now and again you see a different kind of poet stumble into one of these things -- but not usually. Not a judgment either way, on either kind of writing -- but it just doesn't seem real that someone can remain both an 'outsider' and a 'laureate.'

In re: ripping on Bukowski, or saying a writer is 'no Bukowski' -- that's exactly the kind of thing that will put someone closer to laureate status in the academic realms. Guilt by it were.
What I see when I read Levine is that he gave a voice, as he says, to the oppressed, gave them life and names, instead of numbers, and he painted them with great colorful strokes. That is good! great craftmanship.

Bukowski, on the other hand, was one of those oppressed characters who found his own voice, his own courage and spoke for himself.

I guess that one can appreciate Levine as you appreciate a painting.

Bukowski paints himself with his own misery as a subject.
Naw, it wasn't expressing my opinion that made me a fucktard -- it was doing it with a vengeance like some angel of death. That plus forming an opinion based on very little evidence because I'm so eager to attack someone or thing. I always know when I'm getting out of line because I get this sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, but it's always too late to go back and edit the posts that crossed the line. There's that little voice saying "You better check yourself before you wreck yourself."

That said, I do feel there are weaknesses in the two poems discussed above. They are not -- in my opinion -- well crafted. I could get out my red pencil and give details, but I think you've all had enough of me by now.
it's always too late to go back and edit the posts that crossed the line.

i think you get a half hour to reconsider, then it's set in stone.

anyways, i enjoy your cranky posts. your humility always balances.
That half hour goes by quick too. Especially when the self-reflective alarm goes off at the 31 minute mark. Agree with d gray, cranky Rekrab is enjoyable reading. I've never noticed the "getting out of line" thing, though. Always thoughtful and fair is what I come away with when reading Rekrab's posts. I could learn a thing or two from that. A certain someone needs to stop being so hard on themselves.
you didn't cross any lines with me, David. no worries.
Ahhhh, come on Hooch!
He just about spit in your face, didn't he?
You guys were just getting started!

My take is that anyone working seriously with words will have something worth listening to, every now and then.
Some try too hard and give us phrases like "their acrid bouquets." which show off and lose focus too much for me, but in the very same line he's got the phrase "of smoke and grease" which I like.
People who work with words (or music, or paint, or a printing presses, or stamp collecting, or organizing, or writing comments on, or whatever) have a tendency to fall in love with their work. Thats OK, but when that love goes to their head, and makes them near sighted, it is a bit, well, irritating.

On the other hand who am I to say people shouldn't enjoy pretty phrases and harmless word bouquets?

Levins's quip at Buk is actually him acknowledging, deep down, somewehere, (even if he doesn't know it himself) the power and originality of Buk's poetry. It was a freudian slip. A nervous tick. Anxiety of influence.

He was thinking of Buk when he wrote that poem. Understandably.

PS: I enjoy crabby Rekrab and hrrrumfy Hooch as well...
hrrrumfy Hooch

is that like a muppet?

I just finished watching SWIII and was thinking about something more like this:
for me, bad writing is like bad music. any genre of music can be bad, but i'd rather sit through a bad punk rock song (a genre that i enjoy) than a bad R&B song (a genre i deplore). i'm not so open minded that i'll listen to anything once - you may have the most transcendent hip hop song that i've just gotta listen to and that will change my entire opinion about hip hop, but i don't want to listen to it, because i know i won't like it. same goes for religious poetry, christian rock, and abstract photography. daivd mentioned a while back that he doesn't like any graphic novels, and while i can't imagine not liking *any* graphic novels, i wasn't about to say "oh, just read jimmy corrigan or black hole," because if he doesn't like the genre, then the shining lights of that genre won't change his mind. (of course there's a whole separate debate about whether comics are a genre or a medium, but we can ignore that for now.) so, while i admire steve's willingness to engage the writing on its own terms - and while i'm hesitant to share the look-down-your-nose attitude about academics that came across in david's posts (perhaps unintentionally) - i think i fall closer to david's way of thinking. there's too much crap out there to give everything a fair shake. prejudice in one's artistic/literary tastes saves time and helps you focus on the good stuff.
but is academic poetry a genre? is small press poetry a genre? I consider myself a small press poet, because that's where I'm published. if the New Yorker emailed me and said "one of our interns saw a poem of yours in MILK magazine and showed it to us. we liked it. got anymore like that?" I'm not going to say 'fuck you' and David Barker isn't going to say 'fuck you.' we'll say thank you very much and take the check. I don't write to fit a genre, and I don't think David does either. or Hosho or barrett or name a small press writer. I write to get a point across in an interesting way, hopefully in a way that hasn't been written before. I would hate to think that someone doesn't want to read a poem by me because I went to university. or because I went to university but wasted that degree by working blue collar jobs for the past 20+ years. that would suck.

modern poetry is very similar; there are no sonnets or sestinas or limericks being published on a regular basis in any magazine, big or small. it's free verse. a small arena with many crowded stages. you open a mag and without looking at the words the structure and formatting look very similar, whereas songs by the Dead Kennedys and R.Kelly share very few similarities. I see what you're getting at jordan, but I don't think the metaphor applies.
what i was trying to get at was this:
if i see a bio for a poet that says things like, "MFA from Cornell; writing fellow at Yale; I write to explore gender-normative dialectics in modern interpersonal relations..." i won't go near it.

i suppose maybe it isn't a question of genre, but i stand by my claim that some tired, trite bukowski-wannabe poem in a small press magazine is still preferable (to me, at least) than a wanktastic academic wank fest from academia. and, if that leads me to steer clear of publications where the latter is generally preferred over the former purely based on that prejudice, i'm okay with that.
but where's the line? would you turn down The New Yorker? or The Paris Review? and if you are published there, what does that mean?

and as someone who wants to be a poet, I read everything to see what the shit is so I can stay away from it. if I'm reading beer shit poems all day long (whether they are good or bad) all I'm going to write are beer shit poems. don't we have enough beer shit poems? or poems abot Grecian urns, or red wheelbarrows? writers have to read everything, it's our job.

what i was trying to get at was this:
if i see a bio for a poet that says things like, "MFA from Cornell; writing fellow at Yale; I write to explore gender-normative dialectics in modern interpersonal relations..." i won't go near it.

that's why I've pared mine down to : Stephen Hines lives and writes in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.
there doesn't have to be a line... i'm defending prejudices in taste, saying it is sometimes okay to form an opinion of something without reading it first, based on whatever criteria. obviously you wouldn't do this 100% of the time, just like you wouldn't read everything anyone suggested with a totally open mind 100% of the time,

also, someone is arguing like they never want to be published by chance press again...x~O

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