Philip Levine (1928-2015)


For my money, Levine was the most underrated stylist in 20th century English Language Poetry. His distrust of the grace note-of the false, grandiloquent crescendo that poets often use to masks flaws in their work-was one of the chief reasons that I found his poetry so graceful: every rendering moment he had on the page seemed earned. He had a lot of great themes in his career-relating to his heritage, working class background, upbringing in Detroit, and cosmopolitan, Whitmanesque sensibility-and the way he would mix and match them was his tremendous service to poetry in America and around the world.

Here is my personal favorite of his

“Out of burlap sacks, out of bearing butter,
Out of black bean and wet slate bread,
Out of the acids of rage, the candor of tar,
Out of creosote, gasoline, drive shafts, wooden dollies,
They Lion grow.

Out of the gray hills
Of industrial barns, out of rain, out of bus ride,
West Virginia to Kiss My Ass, out of buried aunties,
Mothers hardening like pounded stumps, out of stumps,
Out of the bones’ need to sharpen and the muscles’ to stretch,
They Lion grow.

Earth is eating trees, fence posts,
Gutted cars, earth is calling in her little ones,
“Come home, Come home!” From pig balls,
From the ferocity of pig driven to holiness,
From the furred ear and the full jowl come
The repose of the hung belly, from the purpose
They Lion grow.

From the sweet glues of the trotters
Come the sweet kinks of the fist, from the full flower
Of the hams the thorax of caves,
From “Bow Down” come “Rise Up,”
Come they Lion from the reeds of shovels,
The grained arm that pulls the hands,
They Lion grow.

From my five arms and all my hands,
From all my white sins forgiven, they feed,
From my car passing under the stars,
They Lion, from my children inherit,
From the oak turned to a wall, they Lion,
From they sack and they belly opened
And all that was hidden burning on the oil-stained earth
They feed they Lion and he comes”

To say ” He will be missed” seems like too generic right now.  If you haven’t already,  pick up his work and read him. If you have read him, re-read him. He is too important to be buried away in history.


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