Urban poet Philip Levine was named on Wednesday as the 18th poet laureate by the Library of Congress, which praised his writing for plain-spoken lyricism about working class Americans in Detroit.
Levine, 83, who was born and grew up in Detroit but now lives in Fresno, California where he taught English and writing at California State University, will take up his one-year term this fall, opening the Library's annual literary series in October, Librarian of Congress James Billington said in a statement.
"Philip Levine is one of America's great narrative poets," Billington said. He "championed the art of telling 'The Simple Truth' about working in a Detroit auto factory, as he has, and about the hard work we do to make sense of our lives."
Levine, an author of 20 collections, won a Pulitzer Prize in 1995 for "The Simple Truth" and National Book Awards for "What Work Is" (1991) and "Ashes: Poems New and Old." (1980)
As a young man he worked in car factories in Detroit, and the industrial heartland became one of the main subjects of his work.
Levine told the New York Times in an interview he thought he had begun to do his best work in the early 1990s, but added: "I find more energy in my earlier work. More dash, more anger. Anger was a major engine in my poetry then. It's been replaced by irony, I guess, and by love."
The title poem of his collection, "The Simple Truth," was less tender than some of his later poems:
you know all your life. They are so simple and true
they must be said without elegance, meter and rhyme,
they must be laid on the table beside the salt shaker,
the glass of water, the absence of light gathering
in the shadows of picture frames, they must be
naked and alone, they must stand for themselves."
Levine, who will take on the duty of bringing poetry to the wider public, joins a list of distinguished poets who have served in the position of U.S. poet laureate, including Ted Kooser, Louise Gluck, Billy Collins, Robert Pinsky, Rita Dove and Robert Penn Warren. He succeeds the poet W.S. Merwin.