Poetry Book Society Special Commendation
Philip Levine was the authentic voice of America’s urban poor. Born in 1928, the son of Russian-Jewish immigrants, he spent his early years doing a succession of heavy labouring jobs. Trying to write poetry ‘for people for whom there is no poetry’, he chronicled the lives of the people he grew up with and worked with in Detroit: ‘Their presence seemed utterly lacking in the poetry I inherited at age 20, so I’ve spent the last 40-some years trying to add to our poetry what wasn’t there.’
Much of his poetry addresses the joys and sufferings of industrial life, with radiant feeling as well as painful irony: ‘It took me a long time to be able to write about it without snarling or snapping. I had to temper the violence I felt toward those who maimed and cheated me with a tenderness toward those who had touched and blessed me.’
A poet of memory and invention, Philip Levine was always writing poems which searched for universal truths. His plain-speaking poetry is a testament to the durability of love, the strength of the human spirit and the persistence of life in the face of death. He was appointed US Poet Laureate in 2011 at the age of 83.
'The poet that continues to have the grates impact for me is Philip Levine, and this book [Stranger to Nothing] serves as a great introduction. The subject matter he covers, the directness and generosity of his tone... all combine to astonishing worldly-wise poems that I couldn't imagine being without.' - David Tait, The North, Top 30 Outstanding Books from the Last 30 Years
‘Levine’s poetic vision, nearly religious, transcends class, transcends natural boundaries, and transcends time… Masterly’ – Peter Davison, Atlantic Monthly
‘What I particularly admire about Mr Levine’s work is its great emotional riskiness, its large, deeply felt commitments …In a reactionary and forgetful time these radiantly human and memorialising poems can help us understand our lives’ – Edward Hirsch, New York Times Book Review
‘Levine is a revelation and a rarity…As with Whitman, this is democratic art that does not slum’ – Philadelphia Inquirer
Philip Levine reads 'Starlight'
Philip Levine reads his poem 'Starlight' from Stranger to Nothing: Selected Poems. This film is from the DVD-book In Person: 30 Poets, filmed by Pamela Robertson-Pearce, edited by Neil Astley, which includes five poems from Stranger to Nothing read by Philip Levine. This poem first appeared in his US editions Ashes (Atheneum, 1979) and New Selected Poems (Alfred A. Knopf, 1991).
Philip Levine on Lowell and Berryman
Philip Levine in conversation with Naomi Jaffa at Aldeburgh Poetry Festival in November 2009. In this excerpt from their discussion, Levine talks about being taught first by Robert Lowell and then by John Berryman at the University of Iowa, where his classmates included Donald Justice, W.D. Snodgrass and Henri Coulette. Levine says a lot more about having Berryman and Yvor Winters as mentors in his memoir The Bread of Time (1994/2002).
Currently unavailable: reprint under consideration.