A Perfect Grill
Photograph of Philip Levine in 2006 by David Shankbone.
From The New York Times:
Della and Tatum, Sweet Pea and Packy, Ida and Cal. You met a lot of unpretentious people in Philip Levine’s spare, ironic poems of the industrial heartland. Mr. Levine had toiled in auto plants as a young man. “I saw that the people that I was working with,” he told Detroit Magazine, “were voiceless in a way.”
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.