Q & A: American Poetry

Philip Levine

Are there essential ways in which you consider yourself an American poet?

Yes. The language I write in, the world I write about.

When you consider your own "tradition," do you think primarily of American poets?

Sometimes yes, sometimes no.

Do you believe there is anything specifically American about past and contemporary American poetry? Is there American poetry in the sense that there is said to be American painting or American film? Do you wish to distinguish American poetry from British or other English language poetry?

One question at a time.

Which historic poets do you consider most responsible for generating distinctly American poetics?

Whitman, Williams, Creeley, Olson, Duncan.

What import does regional poetry occupy in your sense of American poetry?

All American poetry is regional.

What significance does popular culture possess in your sense of American poetry?

The structure of films has clearly influenced poetry.

What about the American poets who lived primarily in Europe (Eliot, Pound, Stein)? What about the European poets who have recently lived or worked in America (Heaney, Walcott, Milosz)?

What about them? I read them all, they're part of the family, near cousins, distant cousins.

Are you interested in poetry written in America but not in English?

Like Garcia Lorca's Poet in New York? Of course.

Are you more likely to read a contemporary non-American poet who writes in English or a contemporary non-American poet translated into English?

I'll read both if they're interesting.

Do other aspects of your life (for instance, gender, sexual preference, ethnicity) figure more prominently than nationality in your self-identity as a poet?


Do you believe you could readily distinguish a poem by an American poet from a poem by other poets writing in English?


What do you see as the consequences of "political correctness" for American poetry?


What are your predictions for American poetry in the next century?

I haven't given up hope.

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