Monday, 2 March 2015


My obituary of Philip Levine is online at the Guardian today, you can link to it here. It should be in the paper paper soon. I've liked Levine every since my first encounter with Not This Pig back in 1968 or 69. I didn't want to turn the obit into a literary exegesis, but I was trying to figure out just how to place Levine in modern poetry, and it was not an easy thing to do. In the end I liked the link to the confessional poets -- but his poetry was not about the inner conflicts of the creative soul but the outer stresses of the man at work, and that is how it reads: like a man at work. I thought of comparisons to Carl Rakosi or George Oppen, but with less compression of everyday speech: the critics who accused his verse of artlessness were almost right, what they missed was the same thing that makes Philip Roth's prose so effective, and it is an ability to draw the reader into the rhythm's of the writer's working out what it is he needs to say. Levine did this with the grace of a carpenter hammering home the frame of a house, and the finished product was the kind of structure we could feel was a familiar home...

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