double-voicing: writing simultaneously for professional colleagues and college-bound students–i.e., the first of my biography blog posts, as a sample for seniors starting their own independent reading in our April Biography Project. Soon they, too, will post reflections (of similar length and depth) on their blogs.
Now that I have read the first two chapters of my chosen biography, Philip Levine’s Bread of Time, it’s time to reflect on the questions I brought to this project. I chose this book because it stretches my conception of the memoir/biography genre and because it discusses two of my passions, poetry and teaching. I have been committed to both for a long time. When I read Mr. Levine’s obituary in The New York Times, I noticed this book because of the seniors’ reading project and the book’s subtitle, Toward an Autobiography. I like the subtitle’s statement of intent. It suggests a shade, an aspiration. It communicates the author’s working toward something that readers recognize. I just now realize that this notion of working towards something rather than declaring a victorious achievement echoes my first impressions of Levine. His first two chapters run more topically than chronologically, and I have been struck by the theme of his humility.
As I read, I am watching for the influences that inspire and define his poems. I am also interested in his human teachers–people who shaped his worldview, people from whom he knows he has learned. Finally, since I enjoy writing, I have already been struck by the joy he admittedly experiences in writing lines and sentences. I wonder where that started and what sustained it. I have a sense that his joy is sustained–not necessarily generated but sustained–by his “teachers” and mentors. By the end of chapter two (about holy cities), he is already humble in my eyes. He acknowledges that he has many people and places to thank for his growth. Although he has reason to be proud of his accomplishments, his stance so far, as I read it, is a humble, grateful one. No doubt some of my colleagues, acquaintances and friends who know him personally, or more deeply than I do, may disagree with my early impressions, but to paraphrase part of Neruda’s “Ars Poetica I,” these are my own manual metaphysics and I am moving on to the next chapter.