Other books byPhilip Levine
Philip Levine's new collection of poems (his first since The Simple Truth was awarded the Pulitzer Prize) is a book of journeys: the necessary ones that each of us takes from innocence to experience, from youth to age, from confusion to clarity, from sanity to madness and back again, from life to death, and occasionally from defeat to triumph. The book's mood is best captured in the closing lines of the title poem, which takes its name from the ship that brought the poet's mother to America: A nine-year-old girl travels all night by train with one suitcase and an orange. She learns that mercy is something you can eat again and again while the juice spills over your chin, you can wipe it away with the back of your hands and you can never get enough.
Always a poet of memory and invention, Philip Levine looks back at his own life as well as the adventures of his ancestors, his relatives, and his friends, and at their rites of passage into an America of victories and betrayals. He transports us back to the street where he was born “early in the final industrial century” to help us envision an America he’s known from the 1930s to the present. His subjects include his brothers, a great-uncle who gave up on America and returned to czarist Russia, a father who survived unspeakable losses, the artists and musicians who inspired him, and fellow workers at the factory who shared the best and worst of his coming of age. Throughout the collection Levine rejoices in song–Dinah Washington wailing from a jukebox in midtown Manhattan; Della Daubien hymning on the crosstown streetcar; Max Roach and Clifford Brown at a forgotten Detroit jazz palace; the prayers offered to God by an immigrant uncle dreaming of the Judean hills; the hoarse notes of a factory worker who, completing another late shift, serenades the sleeping streets. Like all of Levine’s poems, these are a testament to the durability of love, the strength of the human spirit, the persistence of life in the presence of the coming dark.
What Work Is
Winner of the National Book Award in 1991 “This collection amounts to a hymn of praise for all the workers of America. These proletarian heroes, with names like Lonnie, Loo, Sweet Pea, and Packy, work the furnaces, forges, slag heaps, assembly lines, and loading docks at places with unglamorous names like Brass Craft or Feinberg and Breslin’s First-Rate Plumbing and Plating. Only Studs Terkel’s Working approaches the pathos and beauty of this book. But Levine’s characters are also significant for their inner lives, not merely their jobs. They are unusually artistic, living ‘at the borders of dreams.’ One reads The Tempest ‘slowly to himself’; another ponders a diagonal chalk line drawn by his teacher to suggest a triangle, the roof of a barn, or the mysterious separation of ‘the dark from the dark.’ What Work Is ranks as a major work by a major poet . . . very accessible and utterly American in tone and language.” —Daniel L. Guillory, Library Journal
Not This Pig
A compelling second collection of poetry.