A Journey with Philip Levine
Reviewed By: Avraham Azrieli
Avraham Azrieli writes books and screenplays. His website is: www.AzrieliBooks.com
Philip Levine, winner of the National Book Award for “What Work Is” and the Pulitzer Prize for “The Simple Truth” offers here a collection that speaks to all five senses with powerful imagery and subtle perceptions of, well, the world and our lives in it.
Levine is more than a poet. He is a storyteller. Many of the poems in this volume could be read as stories, or reflections, of a life lived fully. Work, friends, love, and the mix of joy and sadness that aging brings about. Levine does not shy away from naming names (his blind brother, a former air force man, or the German author W.G. Sebald).
Another constant in Levine’s vast work is the tactile sense of working with your hands, of feeling the world not only in your heart (or your pocketbook), but with the tips of your fingers and the muscles in your arms—or in your back. His style is matter-of-fact, not pretentious or stridently clever, but sensitive and considerate of the reader’s intelligence and sensitivity.
Conversation, or direct address, is another pleasure Levine serves at just the right temperature. Here, for example, in a section from the poem “Our Valley,” where Levine invokes both tangible topography and the unknown: “…and at that moment you can almost believe something is waiting beyond the Pacheco Pass, something massive, irrational, and so powerful even the mountains that rise east of here have no word for it. You probably think I’m nuts saying the mountains have no word for ocean…”
With that, Levine invites us into the intimacy of both his reminiscence of the past and his imagination of what’s awaiting beyond the ‘pass.’ And if this weren’t poetry, we would call it suspense, or mystery, or memoir, or maybe a travelogue that reports a journey both to the past and into the future, traveling on the same uneven plane. Either way, it’s a worthwhile journey.