After Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Philip Levine died last Saturday, many obituaries and tributes acknowledged him as a poet who wrote about factory life in Detroit.
But what you may not know is that he was actually deeply rooted in Fresno and was an avid jazz lover. In the last few years of his life, he collaborated with Benjamin Boone, a Fresno State jazz professor, to set more than two dozen poems to music.
Some of these compositions are playful, some deeply sentimental. In the jazz version of Levine's famous poem, “What Work Is,” the music echoes the impatience and resignation of standing in line, waiting for work.
Here's an excerpt, followed by the Levine/Boone recording of the poem:
We stand in the rain in a long line
waiting at Ford Highland Park. For work.
You know what work is—if you’re
old enough to read this you know what
work is, although you may not do it.
Forget you. This is about waiting,
shifting from one foot to another.
Feeling the light rain falling like mist
into your hair, blurring your vision
until you think you see your own brother of you, maybe ten places. ...