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U.S. Poet Laureate Headlines Burlington Book Fest

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Talk about good timing. Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Philip Levine is a headliner at the Burlington Book Festival's Grace Paley Poetry Series next month. Today, Levine was named the Poet Laureate of the United States.

"He's a legend and we're very lucky to have him as a highlight of this year's stellar lineup," said festival director Rick Kisonak (also a Seven Days film critic) in a press release today.

If you think poetry is only for effete wimps, think again. Levine, 83, is a Detroit native who once was an auto worker. His blue-collar background informs his plainspoken, narrative approach to writing. Levine, who has lived in Fresno and taught at the University of California in that city for 34 years, champions hard work and everyday life. A collection of his poems titled The Simple Truth earned Levine a Pulitzer in 1995, which joined a crowded shelf full of other poetry prizes.

When first offered the laureate post, Levine told the AP, he had his doubts, calling himself "a fairly irreverent person" and "an old union man." But in the end, what poet in his right mind would turn down such an honor? "I would kick myself," Levine continued. "I thought, 'This is you. You can speak to a larger public than has been waiting for you in recent years.'"

"I have a feeling there'll be a large crowd waiting for him at this year's festival," surmised Kisonak.

The 2011 Burlington Book Festival is September 23-25 in various downtown locations. The Grace Paley Poetry Series will be in the Main Street Landing Performing Arts Center.

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