A few years back, I had the pleasure of seeing Philip Levine at the Detroit Institute of Arts. He packed the house, then killed it. It was more rock concert than poetry reading (as they all should be).
It was a homecoming, of sorts. Levine graduated from Wayne State University in 1950, and some of his best poetry focused on his years growing up in Detroit. Swimming with Poletown hotties (Belle Isle, 1949), standing in line looking for work at Ford Highland Park (What Work Is), riding a Woodward Avenue streetcar (An Extraordinary Morning).
Few folks read poetry for pleasure these days—hell, more people probably floss regularly—but it you want something accessible, funny and homegrown, check out the Philip Levine page at the Poetry Foundation.
I’m not sure what he’d think of our politics these days, but I know it would be cantankerous and hilarious. Levine never forgot where he came from or how ordinary people live and speak.
Listen to Philip Levine.
If you do nothing else today, watch the first two minutes of Philip Levine reads his work, courtesy of PBS NewsHour. He begins with “What Work Is.”