Less than two weeks from today, the Coolidge Auditorium will fill with people eager to see our 18th Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry, Philip Levine, close out the Library’s spring season. The Poet Laureate will follow up his hugely successful opening reading last October with a talk entitled “Forgotten Poets of My Youth.” I will surely be sitting on the side, as proud as ever of our Laureate and of poetry.
In my career, I have had the opportunity to work with hundreds of poets. Many have been as generous and humble as they are lauded—with honors of all kinds. I have even gotten to work with several Poets Laureate, who continue to be great ambassadors of the art long after their tenure at the Library. But to be there from the moment the Librarian makes the call, and to be the Poet Laureate’s point person (or loyal lieutenant, as I have called myself) throughout his term—that has been an amazing experience.
The person I shared this experience with is truly amazing as well. Our current Poet Laureate is as engaging, as forthright, and as honest as any poet I have ever met. The latter point is especially important—he is both honest with others, but also with himself and in his poems. He is seriously funny, too (for instance, I have his opening remarks from the October event pinned to my bulletin board—he titled them “Laureate BS”), and balances his critical acumen with a huge generosity. “Call me Phil” is the kind of thing he says when meeting someone for the first time. He and his lovely wife Fran are the kind of people who hug you, and you hug right back.
On the evening of May 3rd, Phil’s generosity will be in full force. He will talk about a time long ago when he was just starting out, and about poets he discovered who have largely been forgotten by history. His work that night will be to show how these poets gave him something invaluable, something worth remembering and sharing. Hundreds of others will join me to reflect upon why we turn to poems in the first place, and what they can truly offer us. Phil will stand as part of a great line of Consultants and Poets Laureate, who used their time in the position to inspire so many others around the country. At the same time, I will be watching a man who has become a dear friend and who has changed my life in ways I will continue to realize for years to come.