May 16, 1995 |
The second-loneliest job in the Central Valley is toiling over the land, 15 million fertile acres alternately seared by sun and shrouded in fog, ringed with mountains and crisscrossed by irrigation canals. The loneliest job is turning heat, dust and poverty into poetry.
December 28, 1994 |
Mornings, Levine zips himself into a warm-up suit, grabs coffee, pops old jazz in the tape player, hefts a fat fountain pen and a yellow pad, and settles into his armchair to write some of the best poetry in America. Fifty years ago, the same guy, "in a dirty work shirt that says 'Phil,' " would have been punching in at Chevy Gear & Axle, Detroit Transmission or the Mavis Nu Icy Bottling Co., would have been running jackhammer, muscling cases of soda pop, polishing flexible plumbing tube.
January 16, 1994 |
"I don't understand. I don't understand," Federico Garcia Lorca exclaimed when he arrived in New York. Out of the bewildered encounter between the finely surreal singer of slain gypsies and flowers that bleed, and Manhattan's stink and clangor, came "Poet in New York." A poet can write out of any state of spirit as long as he trusts it. Lorca trusted his dismay. And he taught Philip Levine to trust his.
May 12, 1991
When Nellie, my old pussy cat, was still in her prime, she would sit behind me as I wrote, and when the line got too long she'd reach one sudden black foreleg down and paw at the moving hand, the offensive one. The first time she drew blood I learned it was poetic to end a line anywhere to keep her quiet. After all, many morn- ings she'd gotten to the chair long before I was even up. Those nights I couldn't sleep she'd come and sit in my lap to calm me.
June 15, 1989 |
Forty-Seventeen by Frank Moorhouse (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich: $16.95; 175 pages) Middle age is a hilltop from which the shapes of life past and life to come turn dismayingly visible. We name this dismay the mid-life crisis; a detonation like a star-shell that bathes the hilltop vantage in dead-white light. "Forty-Seventeen" by the Australian novelist Frank Moorhouse is about one man's view from his shell-lit hill. It is a landscape of wreckage and hope, of breakdown and renewal, of lives and loves disintegrating and re-forming.
June 26, 1988
She calls Chicago, but no one is home. The operator asks for another number but still no one answers. Together they try twenty-one numbers, and at each no one is ever home. "Can I call Baltimore?" she asks. She can, but she knows no one in Baltimore, no one in St. Louis, Boston, Washington. She imagines herself standing before the glass wall high over Lake Shore Drive, the cars below fanning into the city.