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What Does a Poet Laureate Actually Do?

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Philip Levine, an American poet, was appointed this week to the poorly paid, less-than-powerful, yet somehow-still-lofty position of United States’ poet laureate, triggering a cacophony of questions from average American news consumers like me. These questions include the following: who’s this octogenarian dude in a t-shirt talking about the fine arts during primetime? And, what does a poet laureate do anyway? Here’s the quick and dirty.


Philip Levine, 83, doesn’t exactly fit the brooding, elitist poet archetype. He drinks beer, he has a woodsman’s mustache, and he writes about suburbia. Which isn’t to say he’s not intellectual. His poems have been described this week as everything from gritty realist to soaringly magical, from playful to searing. Perhaps most importantly, his poems are said to capture a cross section of average, blue-collar American society that isn’t often found in the poetry aisle at your local bookstore.

Born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, Levine spent his youth working a series of “stupid jobs,” as he called them, in the Cadillac and Chevy factories—places not exactly known for their appreciation of rhyme and meter. It took this Michigander sixteen years of minimum wage gigs and scratching away at his desk at night in near obscurity to get his first book published, when he was 35. Since then, his furious-yet-droll voice has become a touchstone of American poetry.

Job Description

As for the poet laureate title, Levine’s not getting rich anytime soon. The official position—Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress—comes with a $35,000 stipend, funded by a private organization, and little in the way of fame, glory or perks of any kind. (Although, in a bit of good news for poetry-lovers, Levine’s books have reportedly been selling out since the announcement of his appointment Wednesday, with a six-day backorder on Amazon.

Like all the poet laureates since the position was created in 1937, Levine will have very few official duties, except for reading a poem or two at the Library of Congress’ annual poetry symposium, and showing up at events when he’s requested. Past laureates have sometimes taken up a cause célèbre a la the first lady—everything from preserving biodiversity to bringing poetry back into newspapers—although others have simply stuck to the age-old job of poets since Sophocles’ time: finding a way to describe “Truth,” or at the very least, “truths,” in our world.

Here’s a younger Levine, in his 1991 book, The Simple Truth, taking a stab at the notion:

"Some things/you know all your life. They are so simple and true/they must be said without elegance, meter and rhyme,/they must be laid on the table beside the salt shaker,/the glass of water, the absence of light gathering/ in the shadows of picture frames, they must be/ naked and alone, they must stand for themselves."

Here’s to more octogenarians and fine arts during primetime.

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A Simple Way to Charge Your iPhone in 5 Minutes
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Spotting the “low battery” notification on your phone is usually followed by a frantic search for an outlet and further stress over the fact that you may not have time for a full charge. On iPhones, plugging your device into the wall for five minutes might result in only a modest increase of about three percent or so. But this tip from Business Insider Tech may allow you to squeeze out a little more juice.

The trick? Before charging, put your phone in Airplane Mode so that you reduce the number of energy-sucking tasks (signal searching, fielding incoming communications) your device will try and perform.

Next, take the cover off if you have one (the phone might be generating extra heat as a result). Finally, try to use an iPad adapter, which has demonstrated a faster rate of charging than the adapter that comes with your iPhone.

Do that and you’ll likely double your battery boost, from about three to six percent. It may not sound like much, but that little bit of extra juice might keep you connected until you’re able to plug it in for a full charge.

[h/t Business Insider Tech]

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Trying to Save Money? Avoid Shopping on a Smartphone
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Today, Americans do most of their shopping online—but as anyone who’s indulged in late-night retail therapy likely knows, this convenience often can come with an added cost. Trying to curb expenses, but don't want to swear off the convenience of ordering groceries in your PJs? New research shows that shopping on a desktop computer instead of a mobile phone may help you avoid making foolish purchases, according to Co. Design. Ying Zhu, a marketing professor at the University of British Columbia-Okanagan, recently led a study to measure how touchscreen technology affects consumer behavior. Published in the Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services, her research found that people are more likely to make more frivolous, impulsive purchases if they’re shopping on their phones than if they’re facing a computer monitor. Zhu, along with study co-author Jeffrey Meyer of Bowling Green State University, ran a series of lab experiments on student participants to observe how different electronic devices affected shoppers’ thinking styles and intentions. Their aim was to see if subjects' purchasing goals changed when it came to buying frivolous things, like chocolate or massages, or more practical things, like food or office supplies. In one experiment, participants were randomly assigned to use a desktop or a touchscreen. Then, they were presented with an offer to purchase either a frivolous item (a $50 restaurant certificate for $30) or a useful one (a $50 grocery certificate for $30). These subjects used a three-point scale to gauge how likely they were to purchase the offer, and they also evaluated how practical or frivolous each item was. (Participants rated the restaurant certificate to be more indulgent than the grocery certificate.) Sure enough, the researchers found that participants had "significantly higher" purchase intentions for hedonic (i.e. pleasurable) products when buying on touchscreens than on desktops, according to the study. On the flip side, participants had significantly higher purchase intentions for utilitarian (i.e. practical) products while using desktops instead of touchscreens. "The playful and fun nature of the touchscreen enhances consumers' favor of hedonic products; while the logical and functional nature of a desktop endorses the consumers' preference for utilitarian products," Zhu explains in a press release. The study also found that participants using touchscreen technology scored significantly higher on "experiential thinking" than subjects using desktop computers, whereas those with desktop computers demonstrated higher scores for rational thinking. “When you’re in an experiential thinking mode, [you crave] excitement, a different experience,” Zhu explained to Co. Design. “When you’re on the desktop, with all the work emails, that interface puts you into a rational thinking style. While you’re in a rational thinking style, when you assess a product, you’ll look for something with functionality and specific uses.” Zhu’s advice for consumers looking to conserve cash? Stow away the smartphone when you’re itching to splurge on a guilty pleasure. [h/t Fast Company]

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