Philip Levine, the new national poet laureate (April 27, 2006)

Philip Levine, the new national poet laureate (April 27, 2006) Credit: AP

Detroit has long been known for producing cars, but for a year, at least, it may also be known for producing poems. That's because, starting this fall, the nation's poet laureate will be Philip Levine, a former Motown autoworker who makes magic from the lives of blue-collar Americans. The choice, announced last week by the librarian of Congress, could hardly be more timely. The whole country is beset by high unemployment, but job losses in manufacturing have been especially brutal. Factory workers in places like Michigan have seen their livelihoods decimated. And unlike poets who wrestle only with private demons and seem to speak in tongues, Levine (who now divides his time between Brooklyn and Fresno, Calif.) spins his fierce and moving lyrics in glorious plain English. It's poetry not just for experts, but for everyone. hN