August 13, 2011

Philip Levine: Are You Happy and Starlight


When I read that Philip Levine was named the newest U.S. Poet Laureate, I had been doing a little research on the Perseids meteor showers. The Perseids is a very prolific meteor shower that comes every August and I try to watch each year.

They are called the Perseids because they appear to come from a point, called the radiant, within the constellation Perseus.

Perseus was one of the founding myths of the Twelve Olympians. Perseus killed the Gorgon Medusa, and claimed Andromeda, having rescued her from a sea monster sent by Poseidon in retribution for Queen Cassiopeia declaring herself more beautiful than the sea nymphs. Many of those mythological characters are now found in the constellations of the night sky.

I went looking through Levine's poems and rediscovered his poem "Starlight" which seemed like a good connection.

Philip Levine always seems to be described as "blue-collar, working class, poet of the people, poet of work" and similar terms. He is that. Those poems are in his collection and they are important and powerful. But, I hope that doesn't limit his appeal because readers think that all his poems are about that world.

"Starlight" is a father-son poem and I suggest you watch the video below of Levine reading that poem online. He gives it the briefest of introductions - only to say that his father did not live long after the setting of the poem.

The question is asked in the poem "Are you happy?" Such an easy, such a difficult question.

For this month's prompt, write a poem that uses the stars as a way to help tell your story. From the mythology of the constellations, the science of the stars, the romance and history connected to the night sky or this month's shooting stars from Perseus - you have many places to find your stars. Perhaps, you will also find your story in the night sky.

Submissions Due: September 4, 2011


Philip Levine reads his "Starlight" is from Stranger to Nothing: Selected Poems (Bloodaxe Books, UK, 2006). This film is from In Person: 30 Poets.


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