- Associated Press - Thursday, August 11, 2011

NEW YORK (AP) - The country wants to know more about its next poet-in-chief.

Sales have jumped for books by Philip Levine, a Pulitzer Prize winner who on Wednesday was named the U.S. poet laureate. Within a day of the Library of Congress’ announcement, several of Levine’s books had sold out on Amazon.com, including “News of the World” and “The Simple Truth.”

E-book readers also will have to wait. Little of Levine’s work, or of any poetry, is available electronically because verse is so difficult to format for digital devices. Lena Khidritskaya, a spokeswoman for Alfred A. Knopf, said the publisher planned to have e-editions for the collections “What Work Is” and “The Simple Truth” out by the end of the month and for many others by September.

The paperback of “What Work Is” ranked No. 110 on Amazon as of Thursday morning, a status rarely held by a book of poetry.


“It’s amazing. It never occurred to me that would happen,” Levine said Thursday during a telephone interview from his home in Fresno, Calif. Levine, 83, who is known for his celebrations of the working class, wondered if the weak economy was a reason for the increased interest in his work.

“The same thing happened when `What Work Is’ won the National Book Award (in 1991),” he said. “It was also a time of great strife in the labor market.”

Being poet laureate means Levine will likely get to meet President Barack Obama, among the most literary of presidents. Levine said he was a supporter of Obama in 2008 and was thrilled by his election. But he says he would have been happier to see the president right after his victory.

“The problem with meeting him now is I wouldn’t exactly know how to relate to him. Like so many people who believed in what he would do, there is a disappointment,” said Levine, citing the continued war in Afghanistan and Obama’s agreement to extend the Bush-era tax cuts for the rich. “I wouldn’t be rude, but it would be a kind of fraught situation.”