venerdì 12 agosto 2011

In the mood for poetry: Philip Levine

Philip Levine, "known for his emphasis on the voice of the ordinary workingman and the industrial heartland" (as Dwight Garner writes on the NYT), is the new Poet Laureate of America.

And, according to the NYT, "Americans are rushing to read poetry". "One day after Philip Levine was named the next poet laureate, his books have quickly sold out (...) making it nearly impossible to immediately acquire copies of some collections of his poems. On the 'Movers and Shakers' list, which tracks books that are growing the most quickly in popularity, two by Mr. Levine were at the top of the list: 'What Work Is', a collection of poems that won a National Book Award, and 'The Simple Truth', a collection that won a Pulitzer Prize".

Here's one of my favourite poems of his.

The Simple Truth

I bought a dollar and a half's worth of small red potatoes,
took them home, boiled them in their jackets
and ate them for dinner with a little butter and salt.

Then I walked through the dried fields
on the edge of town. In middle June the light
hung on in the dark furrows at my feet,
and in the mountain oaks overhead the birds
were gathering for the night, the jays and mockers
squawking back and forth, the finches still darting
into the dusty light. The woman who sold me
the potatoes was from Poland; she was someone
out of my childhood in a pink spangled sweater and sunglasses
praising the perfection of all her fruits and vegetables
at the road-side stand and urging me to taste
even the pale, raw sweet corn trucked all the way,
she swore, from New Jersey. "Eat, eat" she said,
"Even if you don't I'll say you did."
Some things
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.
My friend Henri and I arrived at this together in 1965
before I went away, before he began to kill himself,
and the two of us to betray our love. Can you taste
what I'm saying? It is onions or potatoes, a pinch
of simple salt, the wealth of melting butter, it is obvious,
it stays in the back of your throat like a truth
you never uttered because the time was always wrong,
it stays there for the rest of your life, unspoken,
made of that dirt we call earth, the metal we call salt,
in a form we have no words for, and you live on it. 

And here's another one:

The Fox

I think I must have lived
Once before, not as a man or woman
But as a small, quick fox pursued
Through fields of grass and grain
By ladies and gentlement on horseback.
This would explain my nose
And the small dark tufts of hair
That rise from the base of my spine.
It would explain why I am
So seldom invited out to dinner
And when I am I am never
Invited back. It would explain
My loathing for those on horseback
In Central Park and how I can
So easily curse them and challenge
The men to fight and why no matter
How big they are or how young
They refuse to dismount,
For at such times, rock in hand,
I must seem demented.
My anger is sudden and total,
For I am a man to whom anger
Usually comes slowly, spreading
Like a fever along my shoulders
And back and turning my stomach
To a stone, but this fox anger
Is lyrical and complete, as I stand
In the pathway shouting and refusing
To budge, feeling the dignity
Of the small creature menaced
By the many and larger. Yes,
I must have been that unseen fox
Whose breath sears the thick bushes
And whose eyes burn like opals
In the darkness, who humps
And shits gleefully in the horsepath
Softened by moonlight and goes on
Feeling the steady measured beat
Of his fox heart like a wordless
Delicate song, and the quick forepaws
Choosing the way unerringly
And the thick furred body following
While the tail flows upward,
Too beautiful a plume for anyone
Except a creature who must proclaim
Not ever ever ever
To mounted ladies and their gentlemen.

3 commenti:

  1. Silvia, questo pezzo su Philip Levine e le due liriche che hai riportato (ho amato soprattutto 'The simple truth') mi hanno fatto venire una grande voglia di leggerlo e condividerlo. Io non so come funziona tra i blog (c'è sicuramente una deontologia da rispettare...) mi domandavo se potevo riportare il pezzo anche sul mio blog facendo comunque sapere che proviene dal tuo.

  2. Certo che puoi, Matteo, e... bentornato! Mi mancavano i tuoi commenti.