am 10. Juni 2000
In my opinion, Philip Levine is perhaps the most honest poet writing in America today. As a master's candidate in an English department, I've endured much of the post-modern fluff that dominates modern poetry. In Levine's work, you won't find the typical introspective ramblings of the depressed modern poet. Levine approaches life in clear and distinct terms. There are images in these poems, real images, with ideas showing right through. Levine doesn't resort to petty academic parlor tricks to describe the disappearence of self--check out "Silent in America" for a portrait of a man with a voice so powerful that he cannot even use it.
Of prosody, Levine is also a master. These are not your basic "skinny prose" modern free verse poems. One will find design here, real design with artfully buried rhymes and off rhymes. Levine also experiments quite successfully with both meter and syllabic verse. The amazine thing, however, is that unless you really pay attention to the work, you miss these things. Levine hypnotizes with his ideas and phrasing and clear, sharp images.
Here are the voices of the lost; here are the voices of the downtrodden. Levine has stepped away from academic games and has become a voice of the American poor in the Whitman tradition. As an epigraph in _Selected Poems_ reads, "Vivas for those who have failed."
Levine has had a great influence on me and my work. Anyone writing poetry should check out Levine's work. I'd recommend _What Work Is_ also. In my opinion, it's his best book.
am 4. Januar 1998
Philip Levine¹s Collected Works is an amazing biography of a life. Spanning a so-far-incomplete life, we can follow Levine¹s progress of maturation. While the beginning poems are strong, it is the middle and end pieces that were the most startling, poems about the working class and later his son. His ability to mix narration and the more typical elements of poetry is extraordinary. Compare the first and last sentences of ³One For The Rose²: ³Three weeks ago I went back / to the same street corner where / 27 years before I took a bus for Akron, / Ohio, but now there was only a blank space / with a few concrete building blocks / scattered among the beer cans², ³Instead I was born / in the wrong year and in the wrong place, / and I made my way so slowly and badly / that I remember every single turn, / and each one smells like an overblown rose, / yellow, American, beautiful, and true.² Levine writes American poetry in the American diction better than anyone since Whitman or Sandburg. His language is conservative and seems simple at first, but when the poem blossoms we are all the more surprised and excited because of it. This book is a gem to read and contains a story, making it as hard to put down as your favorite novel.