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Laureate [Aug. 10th, 2011|04:53 pm]
So, Philip Levine. One would expect poetry coming from Fresno to be a bit prosaic, and so it often is. It's frequently delightful prose, divided into lines like poems, but my mind always puts it into regular sentences and paragraphs as I read.

That flat place on the gridded valley floor, with its hazy distances and its monotonous rows of trees, the sky oddly washed out on most of those days when it has any clarity at all— it's an odd place for verse to grow, even irrigated by the largess of the California State University system. Like most of the San Joaquin Valley, Fresno is all vagueness and jumble, its few landmarks the work of mostly prosaic artifice, and unless it is one of those rare days when the bordering mountains are visible, it's very easy to get lost there.

To be perfectly fair, Levine is known to spend little over half the year in Fresno, and spends the remainder in Brooklyn. He spends summers in Brooklyn. I think that says something about Fresno's summer climate. Now and then in reading Levine one finds a line or two about a harbor. I'm sure they do not refer to Stockton or Sacramento. If a poet from Fresno did not occasionally escape to some place outside the valley, his work would probably end up as dessicated as Fresno's raisins. What's left when a grape is dried by the sun is sweet, but I always find myself missing the juice. Philip Levine is fortunate that there are highways leading out of the San Joaquin Valley.

Wednesday Verse


by Philip Levine

Lately the wind burns
the last leaves and evening
comes too late to be
of use, lately I learned
that the year has turned
its face to winter
and nothing I say or do
can change anything.
So I sleep late and waken
long after the sun has risen
in an empty house and walk
the dusty halls or sit
and listen to the wind
creak in the eaves and struts
of this old house. I say
tomorrow will be different
but I know it won't.
I know the days are shortening
and when the sun pools
at my feet I can reach
into that magic circle
and not be burned. So
I take the few things
that matter, my book,
my glasses, my father's ring,
my brush, and put them aside
in a brown sack and wait—
someone is coming for me.
A voice I've never heard
will speak my name
or a face press to the window
as mine once pressed
when the world held me out.
I had to see what it was
it loved so much. Nothing
had time to show me
how a leaf spun itself
from water or water cried
itself to sleep for
every human thirst. Now
I must wait and be still
and say nothing I don't know,
nothing I haven't lived
over and over,
and that's everything.


[User Picture]From: zyzyly
2011-08-11 02:24 am (UTC)
That flat place
on the gridded valley floor
with its hazy distances
and its monotonous rows of trees
the sky oddly washed out on most of those days
when it has any clarity at all

Now that's poetry.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: lirianna
2011-08-12 09:22 pm (UTC)
Wow. Thank you. :)
(Reply) (Thread)