Lisa Mednick Powell

Poetry Blast Nov 6 2011

I am feeling oh so patriotic today. Here is the description, from the U.S. Library of Congress (where I once worked as a stack attendant and we blew our pot smoke out the bathroom window on our breaks and this guy named Al wrote fake autographs in the books that he figured no one would ever read anyway, signing them "Love Ya," and stack management never even noticed it...but it made us shelvers laugh and our supervisor walked through the stacks with his short shorts, tube top, and Walkman on, firewater on his breath, singing along really loud and out of tune to Prince. It was 1983 and book requests were sent up to us by pneumatic tubes and we unscrewed the tubes, read the numbers and letters penciled onto the pieces of paper, and found the books, then loaded them into bins on a conveyor belt, set in motion by way of an enormous pulley system. The books rattled down to the reading room where Hattie, the reading room attendant, brought to books to the patrons at their tables. She had a long black braid down her back and probably looked like Jane from Their Eyes Were Watching God.) web site of the duties of a poet Laureate: The poet laureate consultant in poetry to the Library of Congress serves as the nation's official lightning rod for the poetic impulse of Americans. During his or her term, the poet laureate seeks to raise the national consciousness to a greater appreciation of the reading and writing of poetry. Let's toast the "poetic impulse of Americans" and hope it is more powerful than cops, more powerful than the drumbeats of war, more powerful than blockades, and more powerful than a missile. Two Poems by Philip Levine and an interview in today's NYTimes magazine. Drum Leo's Tool & Die, 1950 In the early morning before the shop opens, men standing out in the yard on pine planks over the umber mud. The oil drum, squat, brooding, brimmed with metal scraps, three-armed crosses, silver shavings whitened with milky oil, drill bits bitten off. The light diamonds last night's rain; inside a buzzer purrs. The overhead door stammers upward to reveal the scene of our day. We sit for lunch on crates before the open door. Bobeck, the boss's nephew, squats to hug the overflowing drum, gasps and lifts. Rain comes down in sheets staining his gun-metal covert suit. A stake truck sloshes off as the sun returns through a low sky. By four the office help has driven off. We sweep, wash up, punch out, collect outside for a final smoke. The great door crashes down at last. In the darkness the scents of mint, apples, asters. In the darkness this could be a Carthaginian outpost sent to guard the waters of the West, those mounds could be elephants at rest, the acrid half light the haze of stars striking armor if stars were out. On the galvanized tin roof the tunes of sudden rain. The slow light of Friday morning in Michigan, the one we waited for, shows seven hills of scraped earth topped with crab grass, weeds, a black oil drum empty, glistening at the exact center of the modern world. Keats in California The wisteria has come and gone, the plum trees have burned like candles in the cup of earth, the almond has shed its pure blossoms in a soft ring around the trunk. Iris, rose, tulip, hillsides of poppy and lupin, gorse, wild mustard, California is blazing in the foolish winds of April. I have been reading Keats—the poems, the letters, the life— for the first time in my 59th year, and I have been watching television after dinner as though it could bring me some obscure, distant sign of hope. This morning I rose late to the soft light off the eucalyptus and the overbearing odor of orange blossoms. The trees will give another year. They are giving. The few, petty clouds will blow away before noon, and we will have sunshine without fault, china blue skies, and the bees gathering to splatter their little honey dots on my windshield. If I drive to the foothills I can see fields of wildflowers on fire until I have to look away from so much life. I could ask myself, Have I made a Soul today, have I sucked at the teat of the Heart flooded with the experience of a world like ours? Have I become a man one more time? At twenty it made sense. I put down The Collected Poems, left the reserve room of the Wayne library to wander the streets of Detroit under a gray soiled sky. It was spring there too, and the bells rang at noon. The out-patients from Harper waited timidly under the great stone cross of the Presbyterian church for the trolly on Woodward Avenue, their pinched faces flushed with terror. The black tower tilted in the wind as though it too were coming down. It made sense. Before dark I’ll feel the lassitude enter first my arms and legs and spread like water toward the deep organs. I’ll lie on my bed hearing the quail bark as they scurry from cover to cover in their restless searching after sustenance. This place can break your heart. NY Times interview: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/06/magazine/philip-levine-still-knows-how-to-make-trouble.html?_r=1&ref=magazine