Ex-Fresno State Professor named new US Poet Laureate

FRESNO, Calif.

He doesn't' look famous, in fact most Americans have probably never heard his name, but the Library of Congress has deemed Fresno's Philip Levine the nation's official lightning rod for the poetic impulse of America, at least until next May.

Many Fresno State graduates will recognize Levine as their former English Professor, Levine taught there for years, as well as many other prestigious colleges and universities across the country including Columbia, Brown and New York University. But his true love lies in poetry.

"Some things you know all your life," said Levine. "They're so simple and true, they must be said without elegance, meter and rhyme."

The poem is called "The Simple Truth" it's based on his life experiences in Fresno... including a portrait of a polish woman who used to sell produce at the corner of Fruit and Ashlan. The poem earned him a Pulitzer Prize in 1995.

Levine began writing as a teenager in Detroit. He was inspired by poems about real life -- in cities -- and life on the battlefield -- during World War II.

"In high school we read mainly bucolic poetry," said Levine. "Poetry, you know, written about the Garden of Eden. You know, everything's blooming, everybody's blooming and we're gonna go ice skating later."

Some 20 books and numerous awards later, Philip Levine still isn't finished writing. As part of his Poet Laureate award he will receive $35 thousand to work on an individual project. He's considering writing a blog for the Detroit Free Press, a newspaper in the city where he grew up.

Levine said, "Sort of tune into the people of Detroit who are interested in the arts, who are interested in poetry, who are interested in my life and what my experience was in Detroit and whether it strengthened me or ruined me."

Whichever the case, there's no doubt the Motor City launched a national treasure.

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