Mr. Levine’s death is a serious blow for American poetry, in part because
he so vividly evoked the drudgery and hardships of working-class life in America, and in part because this didn’t pull his poetry down into brackishness.
He was a shrewd and very funny man. I’m not sure another major American poet could give advice quite like the following, from a poem called “Facts,” collected in Mr. Levine’s classic 1991 book “What Work Is”:
If you take a ’37 Packard grill and split it down
the center and reduce the angle by 18° and reweld it,
you’ll have a perfect grill for a Rolls Royce
just in case you ever need a new grill for yours.
Mr. Levine was among those poets, and there are not enough of these, whose words you followed even outside their poetry. His interviews, for example, were feasts for the mind. To get back to Della and Tatum, Sweet Pea and Packy, and Ida and Cal for a moment, here is what he told The Paris Review in
1988 about the unpeopling of American poetry:
“Except for the speaker, no one is there. There’s a lot of snow, a moose walks across the field, the trees darken, the sun begins to set, and a window opens. Maybe from a great distance you can see an old woman in a dark shawl carrying an unrecognizable bundle into the gathering gloom.”
When people do appear in poems, Mr. Levine added: “Their greatest terror is that they’ll become like their parents and maybe do something dreadful, like furnish the house in knotty pine.” This man was a thoroughbred moral comedian.
Continue reading at http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/16/books/an-appraisal-the-poet-philip-levine-an-outsider-archiving-the-forgotten.html