With news that Philip Levine is the new Poet Laureate of the United States, we bring to you this poem that ran in the Spring 1991 issue of ZYZZYVA. (At the time, Levine was a professor of English at California State University, Fresno. He now divides his time between Fresno and Brooklyn.)
Focused on a bunch of boys experimenting with booze, as common a rite of adolescence as can be, “Gin” is funny and tender, as it shows the kids puzzling over the merits of drinking. But the poem unsheathes a sharp line at the end. “Any wonder we were trying gin,” Levine writes, after detailing all the travails — personal and political — life will hold for the underage drinkers.