Phillip Levine (1928 - 2015)

The poet Phillip Levine passed away on Sunday. The obituaries you may or may not read are going to focus on his reputation as a poet who wrote about the working class, or more accurately, about the actual work of those we lump under that term. And he was, no doubt, that. The title of one of his two National Book Award winning collections was after all What Work Is. And he should be lauded for that part of his work, but he was not only that. He was too smart, too multi-dimensional a human to be satisfied with that.

Heather McHugh, who, it is safe to say, has never been described in the terms used to describe Levine, said on her Facebook page last night: "Here's toasting the spirit of Phil Levine-- whose THEY FEED THEY LION changed the very premises of poetry for writers like me coming up in America at the time-- (though no one could-- or should-- imitate it-- and maybe precisely BECAUSE no one could)." By "poets like me," I take her to mean poets who are very much concerned with the vexed questions presented by language itself and the way they problematize communication in general and poetry in particular. In other words, poets who are thought, rightly or wrongly,  to be the direct opposites of "working class poets." The point being is that a great poet has passed and you won't understand him from reading this, or any other, appreciation of him. You will only get that from his work. Go read it. 

New Selected Poems
The Simple Truth

Talking with Poets by Harry Thomas
The Public Library: A Photographic Essay by Robert Dawson