Here is an interview with the US Poet Laureate Philip Levine talking about his approach to poetry which now spans over fifty years. Levine’s poetry and prose has been a tremendous influence on me over the last ten years, especially his insistence on honesty and memory and reading as important strands that contribute to making him a better poet. I keep several of Levine’s interviews and poetry readings on my Ipod and often will listen to them if I feel the world’s soul-hardening politics and pretensions encroaching, or if I feel poetry is losing its priority in my life. Here is an excerpt:
I’ll go back to tennis here. Once you learn to hit a certain shot, you can hit it every day. And I constantly read poetry: often for pleasure, but also for obligation—students, fellow poets, etc. And I go back to some of the poets whose influence was powerful with me. I re-read the “Song of Myself” probably every year. I read William Carlos Williams almost every week. I read the 16th-century poet Thomas Wyatt constantly, studying how he handles the line, how he shifts in tone. And the contemporaries whose work I love—Galway Kinnell. I read some stuff for inspiration and also to see how they do it, I’m just constantly reading.