Philip Levine: Contribution as American Poet

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      Philip Levine (1928-2015), born in Detroit, Michigan, deals directly with the economic sufferings of workers through keen observation, rage, and painful irony. Like Hugo, Levine’s background is urban and poor. He attended Wayne State University, the University of Iowa where Berryman and Lowell were his teachers and the California State University at Fresno where he taught until his retirement. His first book of poetry On the Edge (1963), Silent in America: Vivas for those Who Failed (1965) and Not This Pig (1968) established him as a bitter, sometimes shocking chronicler of the suffering of the working classes. In one poem, Levine compares himself to a fox who survives in a dangerous world of hunters through his courage and cunningness. In terms of his rhythmic pattern, he has traveled a path from traditional meters in his early works to a freer, more open line in his later poetry as he expresses his lonely protest against the evils of the contemporary world.

      The other important volumes of poetry are - They Feed They Lion (1972) uses African American speech in a depiction of the Detroit Race Riots - 1933 (1974)and commemorates the Spanish Civil War. Ashes (1979) explores his Jewish heritage in the Shadow of Auschwitz. Much of his work reflects a profound spirituality and the people and the landscape of the Spain where he has sometimes lived. Other volumes of poems are - Pili’s Wall (1971) The Names of the Lost (1976), 7 Years for Somewhere (1979), One for the Rose (1981), Selected Poems (1984), Sweet Will (1985), A Walk with Thomas Jefferson (1988), New Selected Poems (1991)and The Simple Truth (1994). This last work got him the Pulitzer Prize. He has been the voice for the lonely individual caught up in industrial America. Much of his poetry is somber and it reflects an anarchic tendency amid the realization that systems of government will endure. His last volumes are Unselected Poems (1997) and Mercy (1999) - He also translated much of contemporary Spanish poetry.

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