cover image My Lost Poets: A Life in Poetry

My Lost Poets: A Life in Poetry

Philip Levine. Knopf, $27.95 (224p) ISBN 978-0-451-49327-9

The last completed book from the late Levine (News of the World), a former U.S. poet laureate and Pulitzer Prize–winner, collects original and previously published essays that revolve around artistic development—the poems and poets that shaped Levine’s distinct voice—as well as the circumstances that eventually led to his celebrated vocation. Though there is a chronology to the organization of the chapters , they can just as easily stand on their own as individual works; for example, the final chapter, a reading of Keats and Whitman, reads more like a critical essay than a memoir. Unsurprisingly, Levine’s prose is often poetic, from his earliest recollections of composing poems in the “double dark” to his reminiscence of jazz trumpeter Clifford Brown and his music: “pure, free, clear, as water was in my early years.” Levine writes at one point of how a poem hits first “in the gut” and then in the intellect, and his descriptions of his life, brimming with nostalgia and imagination, operate similarly. Like so many of Levine’s poems, this book evinces a commitment to evoking hard-won experience and bringing it to lyric life . (Nov.)