Philip Levine, 1928-2015

by Phillip Witteveen on February 20, 2015

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Philip Levine passed away over the weekend, on Saturday the 14th. His poetry was recognized with two National Book Awards, a Pulitzer, and with an appointment as a U.S. poet laureate. Levine was one of the first (and most prominent) poets to really put his hometown, Detroit, into verse. He found a plainspoken language to mourn with, to give pause, to join rafters in his native mise en scène—a language to tell stories of people just getting off the graveyard shift. He started writing poetry when he was only thirteen.

In Levine’s work, there was always a way of recognizing aspects of the everyday as poetry; in an interview, he once said that this aesthetic state of mind was the greatest lesson he learned from William Carlos Williams. As Levine put it, “Don’t scorn your life just because it’s not dramatic, or it’s impoverished, or it looks dull, or it’s workaday. Don’t scorn it. It is where poetry is taking place if you’ve got the sensitivity to see it, if your eyes are open.”

Philip Levine authored three books of essays, interviews, and memoir for the University of Michigan Press—and inspired a fourth book of literary criticism. They can be found here. You can listen to the full appreciation on NPR’s Morning Edition here and read an appreciation from the American Academy of Poets here.

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