Valentine’s Day will now have a new meaning for me at Landmark Books. No longer will it be a hated Hallmark Holiday, but it will now remind me of the death of one of my favorite poets, Philip Levine who passed away at the age of 87 after battling pancreatic cancer. Levine took his experiences growing up in Detroit and spun those memories into award winning poems and elevated him to become Poet Laureate of the United States from 2011-2012.
Levine was born in Detroit on January 10th, 1928 to an immigrant family, the second of three kids. His father passed away when he was five years old and by age fourteen he began working in the auto plants of Detroit. He earned an A.B. in 1950 from Wayne University and in 1953 attended the University of Iowa studying poetry alongside Robert Lowell and John Berryman. He completed his M.F.A. in 1957.
His first collection of poetry was published in 1963, called ‘On the Edge’ in an edition of only 220 copies. His next work would be published five years later by Wesleyan University called ‘Not This Pig’. In 1972 Levine published ‘They Feed, They Lion’. This collection would become the first of several later works that would cement Philip Levine as one of the most influential modern poets and open the way for later poets like Jim Gustafson and Jim Daniels.
Levine was awarded his first National Book Award for Poetry in 1980 and his second in 1991. In 1995 was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for ‘What Work Is’ marking the pinnacle of his poetic voice. In 2011 he was appointed Poet Laureate of the United States.
His poems reinforced why I became a poet, his narrative poems about factories and middle class life in Michigan spoke to me and gave me reason to pursue a career as a poet. I was never able to meet him, our paths never met in life, but I was published with him and hope that he may have seen my work.
I want everyone who reads this post to look at poetry from Philip Levine, share it with your friends and family and let his legacy live on. Thank You.