Sunday, January 9, 2011

Two Voices, a poem by Philip Levine.

Post 591 - Philip Levine (born in January, 1928, in Detroit, Michigan) is a Pulitzer Prize-winning American poet. He taught for many years at California State University, Fresno. Until recently he was the Distinguished Poet in Residence for the Creative Writing Program at New York University. Levine began to write poetry while he was going to night school at Wayne Wayne State University in Detroit and working days at one of that city's automobile manufacturing plants. He earned a Master of Fine Arts degree from the Iowa Writers' Workshop at the University of Iowa, where he studied with Robert Lowell and John Berryman. Among his awards:
* 1995 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry - The Simple Truth
* 1991 National Book Award - What Work Is
* 1979 National Book Critics Circle Award - Ashes: Poems New and Old
* 1979 American Book Award for Poetry - Ashes: Poems New and Old
* 1979 National Book Critics Circle Award - 7 Years from Somewhere
* 1975 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize - The Names of the Lost
* 1987 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize
* Harriet Monroe Memorial Prize from Poetry
* Frank O'Hara Prize
* Two Guggenheim Foundation fellowships

He says, "I listen to jazz about three hours a day. I love Louis Armstrong."

Two Voices by Philip Levine.

I heard a voice behind me in the street
calling my name. This was not years ago,
this was yesterday in Brooklyn, late spring
of the new year, the flowers - roses, tulips,
mock orange, pansies- promising their colors
along the promenade. I was on my way
to nothing, just ambling along, my head
altogether empty on a Saturday morning
in my seventy-third year. Not altogether empty,
for the flowers were in it, and the crowds
of kids in bright shirts and sweaters, young kids
with their parents in tow, and across the bay
there were the cliffs breaking through the haze
to call to the Heights, to belittle Brooklyn
as it always does. Then my name, “Philip,”
a huge voice, deep and resonant, unfamiliar
or if heard before, heard on radio or TV,
too sonorous for daily life. So, of course,
I turned to behold more kids on roller blades,
kids on skateboards, kids on foot, no one
especially aware of me. Waiting, awake now
as I had not been, certain the morning meant
more than I’d come looking for. The crowds
passed, the sun grew stronger, the day passed
into afternoon and I gave up at last and turned
for home half-believing I’d missed something.
Let’s say I phone you tonight and tell you
about my little adventure which came to nothing.
What will you think? Not what will you say,
you’ll say it was an illusion or you’ll say
there was a deep need in me to hear
that particular voice, or sometimes the voices
of the air - all the separate voices in so
public a place - can unite for a moment
to produce “Philip“ or “John” or “Robert”
or whatever we expect. I don’t know
what you’ll think, I’ve never known, even
when you and I were together, and I’d
waken in the false dawn to hear you
in the secret voice that was yours crying
out into the dark a name not mine.

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