Philip Levine
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Philip Levine

Past Event: Monday, February 28, 2000

Philip Levine is one of America’s most celebrated and renowned poets, having been honored with a National Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize. He was born in 1928 and raised in Detroit, the son of Russian-Jewish immigrants. He was educated in the public schools of Detroit and also attended Wayne State University. After a succession of industrial jobs, including punching in at Chevy Gear & Axle, running jack hammer at Detroit Transmission, and muscling cases of soda pop at Mavis Nu Icy Bottling Company, Levine left Detroit to teach part-time at the University of Iowa, which enabled him to attend the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. Levine, a writer who knows in his bones the corrosive effects of heat, foul air, long hours, low pay, and heavy work, believes his industrial jobs were an unlikely seedbed for his poetry. “Detroit is perfect for me. It’s not dinky. It’s just big enough. I know it. I’m a Detroit-sized poet,” said Levine. “It took me a long time to be able to write about it without snarling or snapping. I had to temper the violence I felt toward those who maimed and cheated me with a tenderness toward those who had touched and blessed me.” The poems and connections he forged in Iowa earned him a fellowship at Stanford University, which led, in turn, to a job at Fresno State in 1958, where he taught literature and writing for over thirty years.

Most of Levine’s poetry addresses the joys and sufferings of industrial life, poems marked by keen observation, rage and painful irony. His poetry is about the common people, but it is also for the common people. While his poems are carefully crafted and complex, they read like colloquial speech. Levine splits his time between New York City and Fresno.

Selected WorkMercy (1999)Smoke (1997)The Simple Truth : Poems (1994)The Bread of Time: Toward an Autobiography (1994)What Work Is: Poems (1991)New Selected Poems (1991)A Walk with Tom Jefferson (1988)Sweet Will (1985)One for the Rose (1981)The Names of the Lost (1976)They Feed They Lion (1972)Not this Pig (1968)On The Edge (1963)

LinksAtlantic Monthly interview with LevineAcademy of American Poets page about LevineFeatured author in Ploughshares