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Book Report: The choice is yours: Lovely poems, exploding tourism

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University of Iowa Press has just re-issued a book of poetry by Philip Levine, winner both the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry and the National Book Award, and who served for a year as United States Poet Laureate.

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The book is "Sweet Will," published by Prairie Lights after being out of print for years.

It's a quiet book, lovely in its restraint.

One of my favorite poems treats of Levine's life as a boy in Detroit. It's called "Sweet Will:"

The man who stood beside me

34 years ago this night fell

on to the concrete, oily floor

of Detroit Transmission, and we

stepped carefully over him until

he wakened and went back to his press.

It was Friday night and the others

told me that every Friday he drank

more than he could hold and fell

and he wasn't any dumber for it

so just let him get up at his

own sweet will or he'll hit you.

"At his own sweet will," was just

what the old black man said to me,

and he smiled the smile of one

who is still surprised that dawn

graying the cracked and broken windows

could start us all to singing in the cold.

Stash rose and wiped the back of his head

with a crumpled handkerchief and looked

at his own blood as though it were

dirt and puzzled as to how

it got there and then wiped the ends

of his fingers carefully one at a time.

The way the other wipes the fingers

of a sleeping child, and climbed back

on his wooden soda-pop case to

his punch press and hollered at all

of us over the oceanic roar of work,

addressing us by our names and nations --

"Nigger, Kike, Hunky, River Rat,"

but he gave it a tune, an old tune,

like "America the Beautiful." And he danced

a little two-step and smiled showing

the four stained teeth left in the front

and took another suck of cherry brandy.

And in truth I'm not worth a thing

what with my feet and my two bad eyes

and my one long nose and my breath

of old lies and my sad tales of men

who let the earth break them back,

each one, to dirty blood or bloody dirt.

Not worth a thing! Just like it was said

at my magic birth when the stars

collided and fire fell from great space

into great space, and people rose one

by one from cold beds to tend a world

that runs on and on at its own sweet will.

***

This month a former New York Times reporter has come up with a real eye opener in "Overbooked: "The Exploding Business of Travel and Tourism" Simon & Schuster, $28.

How's this for data?

Elizabeth Becker claims that tourism employs one out of 12 persons (250,000,000 jobs) and produces $6.5 trillion of the world's economy.

And that doesn't count people who vacation in their own country.

People travel so much, she claims, that in 2005 if frequent flier miles were currency, they'd be worth more than all the American dollars in circulation.

But there's a rub.

Becker also claims that the U.S. isn't getting a big enough piece of the action unlike places like France, where governments spend big money attracting tourists.

This is a fascinating book, which begins with Arthur Frommer's "Europe on $5 a Day" and ends with numbers that indicate the industry is in the same company as oil, energy, finance and agriculture.

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