Philip Levine (poet)
Levine reading on September 16, 2006
January 10, 1928 |
Detroit, Michigan, USA
|Known for||Award winning poet
United States Poet Laureate
Philip Levine (b. January 10, 1928, Detroit, Michigan) is a Pulitzer Prize-winning American poet best known for his poems about working-class Detroit. He taught for over thirty years in the English Department of California State University, Fresno and held teaching positions at other universities as well. He was appointed Poet Laureate of the United States for 2011–2012.
Philip Levine grew up in industrial Detroit, the second of three sons and the first of identical twins of Jewish immigrant parents. His father, Harry Levine, owned a used auto-parts business, his mother, Esther Priscol (Prisckulnick) Levine, was a bookseller. When Levine was five years old, his father died. While growing up, he faced the anti-Semitism embodied by Father Coughlin, the pro-Hitler radio priest.
Levine started to work in car manufacturing plants at the age of 14. He graduated from Detroit Central High School in 1946 and went to college at Wayne University (now Wayne State University) in Detroit, where he began to write poetry, encouraged by his mother, to whom he dedicated the book of poems, The Mercy. Levine earned his A.B. in 1950 and went to work for Chevrolet and Cadillac in what he calls "stupid jobs". He married his first wife, Patty Kanterman, in 1951. The marriage lasted until 1953. In 1953 he went to the University of Iowa without registering, studying among others with poets Robert Lowell and John Berryman, the latter of which Levine called his "one great mentor". In 1954 he graduated with a mail-order masters degree with a thesis on John Keats' "Ode to Indolence", and married actress Frances J. Artley. He returned to the University of Iowa teaching technical writing, completing his Master of Fine Arts degree in 1957. The same year, he was awarded the Jones Fellowship in Poetry at Stanford University. In 1958 he joined the English Department at California State University in Fresno, where he taught until his retirement in 1992. He has also taught at many other universities, among them New York University as Distinguished Writer-in-Residence, at Columbia, Princeton, Brown, Tufts, and the University of California at Berkeley.
Levine and his wife live in Fresno and Brooklyn.
The familial, social, and economic world of 20th century Detroit is one of the major subjects of Levine's life work. His portraits of working class Americans and his continuous examination of his Jewish immigrant inheritance (both based on real life and described through fictional characters) has left a testimony of mid-20th century American life.
Levine's working experience lent his poetry a profound skepticism in regard to conventional American ideals. In his first two books, On the Edge (1963) and Not This Pig (1968), the poetry dwells on those who suddenly become aware they are trapped in some murderous processes not of their own making. In 1968, Levine signed the “Writers and Editors War Tax Protest” pledge, vowing to refuse tax payments in protest against the Vietnam War.
In his first two books, Levine was somewhat traditional in form and relatively constrained in expression. Beginning with They Feed They Lion, Levine's poems are typically free-verse monologues tending toward trimeter or tetrameter. The music of Levine's poetry depends on tension between his line-breaks and his syntax. The title poem of Levine's book 1933 (1974) is an example of the cascade of clauses and phrases one finds in his poetry. Other collections include A Walk with Tom Jefferson, New Selected Poems, and the National Book Award-winning What Work Is.
On November 29, 2007 a tribute was held in New York City in anticipation of Levine's 80th birthday. Among those celebrating Levine's career by reading Levine's work were Yusef Komunyakaa, Galway Kinnell, E. L. Doctorow, Charles Wright, Jean Valentine, and Sharon Olds. Levine himself read several new poems. He thanked his students and asked them to refrain from asking for any more letters of recommendation.
- 2011 Appointed Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress (United States Poet Laureate).
- 1995 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry – The Simple Truth (1994)
- 1991 National Book Award for Poetry and Los Angeles Times Book Prize – What Work Is
- 1987 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize from the Modern Poetry Association and the American Council for the Arts
- 1981 Levinson Prize from Poetry magazine
- 1980 Guggenheim Foundation fellowship
- 1980 National Book Award for Poetry – Ashes: Poems New and Old
- 1979 National Book Critics Circle Award – Ashes: Poems New and Old – 7 Years from Somewhere
- 1978 Harriet Monroe Memorial Prize from Poetry
- 1977 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize – The Names of the Lost (1975)
- 1973 American Academy of Arts and Letters Award, Frank O'Hara Prize, Guggenheim Foundation fellowship
Poetry collections 
- News of the World, Random House, Inc., 2009, ISBN 978-0-307-27223-2
- Stranger to Nothing: Selected Poems, Bloodaxe Books, UK, 2006, ISBN 978-1-85224-737-9
- Breath Knopf, 2004, ISBN 978-1-4000-4291-3; reprint, Random House, Inc., 2006, ISBN 978-0-375-71078-0
- The Mercy, Random House, Inc., 1999, ISBN 978-0-375-70135-1
- Unselected Poems, Greenhouse Review Press, 1997, ISBN 978-0-9655239-0-5
- The Simple Truth, Alfred A. Knopf, 1994, ISBN 978-0-679-43580-8; Alfred A. Knopf, 1996, ISBN 978-0-679-76584-4
- What Work Is, Knopf, 1992, ISBN 978-0-679-74058-2
- New Selected Poems, Knopf, 1991, ISBN 978-0-679-40165-0
- A Walk With Tom Jefferson, A.A. Knopf, 1988, ISBN 978-0-394-57038-9
- Sweet Will, Atheneum, 1985, ISBN 978-0-689-11585-1
- Selected Poems, Atheneum, 1984, ISBN 978-0-689-11456-4
- One for the Rose, Atheneum, 1981, ISBN 978-0-689-11223-2
- 7 Years From Somewhere, Atheneum, 1979, ISBN 978-0-689-10974-4
- Ashes: Poems New and Old, Atheneum, 1979, ISBN 978-0-689-10975-1
- The Names of the Lost, Atheneum, 1976
- 1933, Atheneum, 1974, ISBN 978-0-689-10586-9
- They Feed They Lion, Atheneum, 1972
- Red Dust (1971)
- Pili's Wall, Unicorn Press, 1971; Unicorn Press, 1980
- Not This Pig, Wesleyan University Press, 1968, ISBN 978-0-8195-2038-8; Wesleyan University Press, 1982, ISBN 978-0-8195-1038-9
- On the Edge (1963)
- The Bread of Time (1994)
- Off the Map: Selected Poems of Gloria Fuertes, edited and translated with Ada Long (1984)
- Tarumba: The Selected Poems of Jaime Sabines, edited and translated With Ernesto Trejo (1979)
- Don't Ask, University of Michigan Press, 1981, ISBN 978-0-472-06327-7
- Charles McGrath (August 9, 2011). "Voice of the Workingman to Be Poet Laureate". The New York Times. Retrieved August 9, 2011.
- Russel Frank (December 28, 1994). "The Poet of the Night Shift: Literature: For Philip Levine, it was not a long trip from factory work to writing some of America's best poetry". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved August 15, 2011.
- Christopher Buckley, ed. (1991). On the poetry of Philip Levine: stranger to nothing. University of Michigan Press. pp. 1–3. ISBN 978-0-472-06392-5.
- Dana Gioia, Chryss Yost, Jack Hicks, ed. (2004). "Philip Levine". California poetry: from the Gold Rush to the present. A California legacy book. Heyday. pp. 159–160. ISBN 978-1-890771-72-0.
- "American-Jewish poet Phillip Levine named U.S. Poet Laureate". Haaretz. August 10, 2011. Retrieved August 15, 2011.
- Edward Hirsch and Philip Levine (1999). "The Unwritten Biography: Philip Levine and Edward Hirsch in Conversation". American Poet. Retrieved August 15, 2011.
- Mona Simpson (Summer 1988). "Philip Levine, The Art of Poetry No. 39". The Paris Review No. 107. Retrieved August 15, 2011.
- "Philip Levine". Academy of American Poets. Retrieved August 15, 2011.
- "Librarian of Congress Appoints Philip Levine Poet Laureate". Library of Congress. August 10, 2011. Retrieved August 15, 2011.
- Donald Munro (August 9, 2011). "Fresno's Philip Levine named nation's poet laureate". The Fresno Bee. Retrieved August 15, 2011.
- “Writers and Editors War Tax Protest” January 30, 1968 New York Post
- "National Book Awards – 1991". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-02-27.
- "National Book Awards – 1980". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-02-27.
(With essay by John Murillo from the Awards 60-year anniversary blog.)
- "Philip Levine Resources". The Library of Congress.
- "Philip Levine (1928- )". Modern American Poetry.
- "Philip Levine: Biography, Poems, Articles & more". The Poetry Foundation.
- Guy Shahar (Producer) and Lynn Levy (Editor) (Winter 2009). Poets in Person: Philip Levine (video). The Cortland Review.
- Nick Heath (September 22, 2004). "Levine, Philip, 1928-today". libcom.org.
- Wen Stephenson (April 8, 1999). "A useful Poetry. An interview with Philip Levine". The Atlantic.
- Mona Simpson (Summer 1988). "Philip Levine, The Art of Poetry No. 39". The Paris Review.
- "Philip Levine, Interview and Poems". The Cortland Review. May 1999.
- 2012 Levine interview at Words on a Wire