Philip Levine dies at 87; former U.S. poet laureate, Pulitzer winner

Poet Philip Levine, who wrote about the travails of working people, dead at age 87

Philip Levine, a former U.S. poet laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner, died Saturday in Fresno. He was 87. 

Timothy Skeen, a friend of Levine’s, confirmed the death. Skeen, also a poet, coordinates the masters of fine arts program at Cal State Fresno, where Levine taught before his retirement. 

Levine was named the 18th U.S. poet laureate in 2011 by the Library of Congress

The author of numerous books of poetry, Levine won the 1991 National Book Award for "What Work Is."  In 1995, his book "The Simple Truth" won a Pulitzer Prize. 

In a review of "What Work Is," David Baker, the Kenyon Review's poetry editor, said Levine was “one of our most resonant voices of social conviction and witness, and he speaks with a powerful clarity."

Levine was a graduate of Wayne State University in Detroit.

Throughout his career, he also taught at Columbia, Princeton, Brown, UC Berkley and New York University

Levine told The Times in 2011 that he wanted to "bring poetry to people who have no idea how relevant poetry is to their lives."

In his later years, Levine split his time between Fresno and Brooklyn, N.Y.

Levine wrote powerfully about the everyday travails of working people. The title poem in "What Work Is" reflects his profound feeling for people struggling to make a living. It begins:

We stand in the rain in a long line

waiting at Ford Highland Park. For work.

You know what work is — if you're

old enough to read this you know what

work is, although you may not do it.

Forget you. This is about waiting,

shifting from one foot to another.

Feeling the light rain falling like mist

into your hair, blurring your vision

until you think you see your own brother

ahead of you, maybe ten places.

You rub your glasses with your fingers,

and of course it's someone else's brother,

narrower across the shoulders than

yours but with the same sad slouch, the grin

that does not hide the stubbornness,

the sad refusal to give in to

rain, to the hours of wasted waiting,

to the knowledge that somewhere ahead

a man is waiting who will say, "No,

we're not hiring today," for any

reason he wants. ...

A complete obituary will follow at latimes.com/obits

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