Click Image to Visit the Pecan Grove Press Web Page for Poetry from Paradise Valley


Poetry From Paradise Valley

Pecan Grove Press has released an anthology of poems, a sampling of works published in Valparaiso Poetry Review during its first decade, from the original 1999-2000 volume to the 2009-2010 volume.

Poetry from Paradise Valley includes a stellar roster of 50 poets. Among the contributors are a former Poet Laureate of the United States, a winner of the Griffin International Prize, two Pulitzer Prize winners, two National Book Award winners, two National Book Critics Circle winners, six finalists for the National Book Award, four finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award, two finalists for the Pulitzer Prize, and a few dozen recipients of other honors, such as fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, etc.

Readers are encouraged to visit the Poetry from Paradise Valley page at the publisher's web site, where ordering information about the book can be found.

Best Books of Indiana 2011: Finalist. Judges' Citation: "Poetry from Paradise Valley is an excellent anthology that features world-class poetry, including the work of many artists from the Midwest, such as Jared Carter, Annie Finch, David Baker, and Allison Joseph. It’s an eclectic and always interesting collection where poems on similar themes flow into each other. It showcases the highest caliber of U. S. poetry."
—Indiana Center for the Book, Indiana State Library

Monday, September 7, 2009

Philip Levine's "What Work Is" on Labor Day

Philip Levine received the National Book Award in 1991 for his volume of poems titled What Work Is. For decades, Levine had been associated with the working class, particularly those blue-collar workers in factories and on the assembly lines of the hometown Detroit he knew as a young man in the 1930s and 1940s. What Work Is seemed to reaffirm and solidify such a perception of Levine, at least for a significant body of poems that addressed the subjects of poverty and substandard workplace conditions for many laborers. Levine has explained in interviews how he obtained firsthand knowledge at the early age of fourteen as a factory worker during World War II, when older able-bodied men were away at war and teenagers were employed in plants supplying materials for the battlefront. Indeed, a powerful poem, “Growth,” from the 1991 collection begins: “In the soap factory where I worked / when I was fourteen, I spoke to / no one and only one man spoke / to me and then to command me / to wheel the little cars of damp chips / into the ovens.”

David Baker—in a review of Philip Levine’s What Work Is that first appeared in Kenyon Review and is reprinted in Baker’s fine book of criticism, Heresy and the Ideal (University of Arkansas Press, 2000)—describes Levine’s poetry as often being populated by individuals who “have been betrayed by the false promise of the American Dream. They have been beaten into slavery by the dehumanizing agency of capitalism.” In fact, Baker praises What Work Is as possibly “one of the signal books of our time. Poem after poem confronts the terribly damaged conditions of American labor. Further, Levine insists on attending to the particularities of personality and character, on seeing distinction in the face of blurring abuse, and on demanding the restorative authority of song wrenched out of the pain and grime of such detail.”

Earlier this year Americans witnessed the emergence of news concerning the bankruptcy at General Motors, one of the companies where Levine once worked on the assembly line. Therefore, on this Labor Day, I thought perhaps readers would find interest in listening to Levine recite his title poem, “What Work Is,” and explain a personal emotional experience that fed his anger and frustration about the situations in which many poor workers and unemployed citizens frequently find themselves. The text of the poem follows:


We stand in the rain in a long line
waiting at Ford Highland Park. For work.
You know what work is—if you’re
old enough to read this you know what
work is, although you may not do it.
Forget you. This is about waiting,
shifting from one foot to another.
Feeling the light rain falling like mist
into your hair, blurring your vision
until you think you see your own brother
ahead of you, maybe ten places.
You rub your glasses with your fingers,
and of course it’s someone else’s brother,
narrower across the shoulders than
yours but with the same sad slouch, the grin
that does not hide the stubbornness,
the sad refusal to give in to
rain, to the hours wasted waiting,
to the knowledge that somewhere ahead
a man is waiting who will say, “No,
we’re not hiring today,” for any
reason he wants. You love your brother,
now suddenly you can hardly stand
the love flooding you for your brother,
who’s not beside you or behind or
ahead because he’s home trying to
sleep off a miserable night shift
at Cadillac so he can get up
before noon to study his German.
Works eight hours a night so he can sing
Wagner, the opera you hate most,
the worst music ever invented.
How long has it been since you told him
you loved him, held his wide shoulders,
opened your eyes wide and said those words,
and maybe kissed his cheek? You’ve never
done something so simple, so obvious,
not because you’re too young or too dumb,
not because you’re jealous or even mean
or incapable of crying in
the presence of another man, no,
just because you don’t know what work is.

Additionally, visitors are invited to read other posts at “One Poet’s Notes” about Philip Levine: “Reading Philip Levine at Mother’s Day,” “Edgar Degas and Philip Levine,” “Philip Levine on His 80th Birthday,” and “Philip Levine: Breath.”


Anonymous said...

Wow. This is one I'm going to read many times. How poignant, especially given the occasion, and the times. Thanks so much for this.

January said...

One of my favorite poems by my former professor. Thanks for posting.