Former Poet Laureate Philip Levine died at 87 on Saturday. In today’s NYT, critic Dwight Garner describes him as the author of “spare, ironic poems of the industrial heartland” and calls his loss, “a serious blow for American poetry.”
Levine won a Pulitzer Prize for his collection The Simple Truth (RH/Knopf, 1994) and two National Book Awards, for Ashes: Poems New & Old (Atheneum, 1979) and for What Work Is (RH/Knopf, 1991). His most recent collection was News of the World, (RH/Knopf, 2009).
When I was in the eleventh grade and the war was still going, a teacher read us some poems by Wilfred Owen. And after class, for some reason, she called me up to her desk and said, “Would you like to borrow this book?” How she knew that I was responding so powerfully to these poems, I’m not sure, but I was. She said, “Now, I want you to take it home, and read it with white gloves on.” In other words, don’t spill soup on it. It was probably the most significant poetic experience I had in my whole life, and I was only seventeen. Just to discover that there was a young man some years before whose feelings about war were so similar to my own, yet he had experienced it all, whereas I was only living in dread of having to go to war.