Let’s get this party started: current U.S. Poet Laureate and no. 1 Seed Phil Levine knocks heads with Joanna Klink

Before we get to the Levine/Klink contest, here’s the North Bracket:

1. Philip Levine
2. Richard Wilbur
3. Dana Gioia
4. Margaret Atwood
5. Glyn Maxwell
6. Louise Gluck
7. Frank Bidart
8.  Mark Strand
9. Cornelius Eady
10. Alice Oswald
11. Peter Gizzi
12. Stephen Dunn
13. Bin Ramke
14. Brenda Shaughnessy
15. Anne Waldman
16. Joanna Klink

Levine has 4 poems in the Dove anthology.   He goes with the first one in Round One:


It’s wonderful how I jog
on four honed-down ivory toes
my massive buttocks slipping
like oiled parts with each light step.
I’m to market. I can smell
the sour, grooved block, I can smell
the blade that opens the hole
and the pudgy white fingers
that shake out the intestines
like a hankie. In my dreams
the snouts drool on the marble,
suffering children, suffering flies,
suffering the consumers
who won’t meet their steady eyes
for fear they could see. The boy
who drives me along believes
that any moment I’ll fall
on my side and drum my toes
like a typewriter or squeal
and shit like a new housewife
discovering television,
or that I’ll turn like a beast
cleverly to hook his teeth
with my teeth. No. Not this pig.
Animals die, and they are murdered by humans, is what the poet, taking on the persona of a pig, is telling us in his poem, anticipating that we—“consumers” of pigs or poems—will not be able to look, or care to look, at pig-or-poems-of-truth.  The poet, perhaps, overestimates the importance of his truth in his poem.   Formally, the poem sparkles with a certain swiftness—we go from “jog” to “pig” in a wink, and we cannot deny the poem has a certain pull on us.
Joanna Klink, born in Iowa City, Iowa, and Jorie Graham’s former babysitter, defends herself with this poem (from Dove’s anthology):
Shoulder me up. Drink careless down, for flinching
ask, break, call skimming, be slight then, be soon.
Would, wire air back to you, would. Would wind you
still, lift clear to you sitting. Sheeted around you
would care, could single you somehow, warm for floor-
weight own hurt to you, sinking. Though your arms hold:
just sun. I can’t bring you. So tire to me quickly,
dumb solving cushions. Would spare wrists to you, skimming.
What sudden gives, what bent back look lifting (not my legs
here on me, nor the still sitting). For glass bowl bent over
caring. Keeps clear to tasting but warm to me, singing.
What serves then slips (orange, cold-orange, cannot spare
breaking). What shouldn’t bend, what part offer, what fruit
sweet to flinching. Though cold cancels can sit can
reach. Does not know. But holds. But holds out, feeling.
This poem sounds like some kind of hidden declaration of love; about sex, perhaps?  A torrid affair, a hopeless love affair…we’re not sure.
Levine 88, Klink 67


  1. noochinator said,

    April 5, 2012 at 9:51 am

    I’m glad that Klink
    By Levine was beaten,
    But as for that pig,
    It was bred to be eaten.

    “… squeal
    and shit like a new housewife /
    discovering television…” —

    Not to stray off topic,
    But is this misogynist,
    Or just plain misanthropic?

    • thomasbrady said,

      April 5, 2012 at 2:53 pm

      Thank you, Nooch…funny and observant, per usual…

      “housewife, etc”

      As a poet, Levine is considered working-class:
      A certain license, perhaps, to write like an ass?

      The road to the title is a long journey—
      This might come back to bite him later in the tourney….

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