News of the World

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Overview

In this ?characteristically wise? (The New York Times Book Review) collection from one of our most celebrated poets, Philip Levine brings us finely made, powerfully telling imagery from the worlds of hand, heart, and mind.
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News of the World

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Overview

In this “characteristically wise” (The New York Times Book Review) collection from one of our most celebrated poets, Philip Levine brings us finely made, powerfully telling imagery from the worlds of hand, heart, and mind.
Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Pulitzer-winner Levine invites readers into familiar landscapes—Detroit, gritty America, forests chock-full of truth and beauty, “the shaded woods/ where I go evening after evening/ to converse with tangled roots and vines”—in his 20th books of poems. He continues to romanticize hardscrabble living—pumping well water, working in an auto factory—but this collection is less an update about the current political or social situation than it is news about Levine himself. He writes in an autobiographical mode, in long stanzas that flirt with iambic pentameter, while also encouraging the reader to participate as he describes “An actual place in the actual city/ where we all grew up.” Prose poems treat adventures in far away places (“You may hear that Australia is a continent. I lived there, I know it's an island”) while other poems recall Levine's past: “When my brother came home from war/ he carried his left arm in a black sling/ but assured us most of it was there.” While Levine charts no new territory, fans will happily get what they came for. (Oct.)
Library Journal
In his latest collection, prolific poet Levine ruminates on family, life, and death in the familiar colloquial style that won him the Pulitzer Prize in 1995. With a quiet intimacy, Levine quite literally delivers the news of the world, with tales of haunting mountains, exhausted Detroit workers, and Spanish songstresses. His flirtations with death in both prose poems and formal verse have a weightiness that remains long after you close the book: "I felt bad/ for the little priest: both of us/ he called 'my sons' were failing,/ slipping gracelessly from our lives/ to abandon him to face eternity/ as it came on and on and on." These poems exude a certain melancholia, but Levine's ability to examine expertly the beauty in this sadness keeps them from veering toward the unnecessarily depressing. He can paint even the strange with simple, natural language in a way that's subtly moving, and the nostalgic glow he applies to his memories makes this work the perfect addition to the oeuvre that has come to define his life. VERDICT An integral part of his life's puzzle that Levine, even at 81, is still attempting to piece together; for all readers of contemporary poetry.—Jessica Roy, Library Journal\
From the Publisher
“All the earmarks of a valedictory testament, what with its autumnal ruminations on personal history and its haunted remembrances of things past, yet Levine is too canny a craftsman to settle for dutiful curtain calls, and too much the hard-bitten ironist to fall prey to false nostalgia. If certain obsessions here are bound to strike longtime readers as old news (innocence and experience, manual labor and class struggle), the visceral language that fleshes the poems out still feels hot off the press.” —David Barber, The Boston Globe
The Barnes & Noble Review
Dirges of himself? That is not quite right as a description of Philip Levine's News of the World, for the poems are more wizened than forlorn -- unblinking, not unforgiving. Yet Levine evokes American decline as surely as Whitman did the promise of a nation's youth. In "Our Valley," Levine writes,
You have to remember this isn't your land.
It belongs to no one, like the sea you once lived beside and thought was yours.
Similarly, Levine salutes his grandfather in "My Fathers, the Baltic" for
your gall, your rages,
your abiding love for money and all it never bought
Possession and money may entail self-delusion, but Levine is enough of an appreciator of humanity to capture buoyant industrial workers on payday in wartime Detroit, leaning against Ruby's Rib Shack, elated to have "finished a short workweek, and if they're not rich they're as close to rich as they'll ever be in this town."

The center of historical gravity in News of the World is the wartime '40s in Toledo, Buffalo, Flint ("the places are the same except for the names," Levine writes), and, as ever, Detroit, with its small machine shops and colossal factory citadels, today all but stilled. In "Dearborn Suite," Levine spins a fantasy of Henry Ford, "supremely bored" in his mansion, deciding to head down to the shop floor:

Hell is here in the forge room where the giant presses stamp out body parts....
The old man, King Henry, punches in for the night shift with us,
his beloved coloreds and Yids,
to work until the shattered windows gray.
Similar flights of magic realism capture other lost worlds, in an arc tracing from Brooklyn to Barcelona. News of the World broods upon time, decay, loss, and death imbricated within history, labor, and nature. Levine's is a world where men and women "buy and sell each other." It is also "an immense, endless opera punctuated by the high notes of sirens & the basso profundo of trucks & jackhammers & ferries & tugboats."
"This is the world,"
I think, "this is what I came in search of years ago."
--Christopher Phelps
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307272232
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 10/6/2009
  • Pages: 80
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.28 (h) x 0.49 (d)

Meet the Author

Philip Levine was born in 1928 in Detroit. He has received numerous awards for his poetry, including the National Book Award for What Work Is and the Pulitzer Prize for The Simple Truth. He divides his time between Fresno, California, and Brooklyn, New York.

Biography

On August 10th, 2011, Librarian of Congress James H. Billington announced the appointment of Philip Levine as the Library's 18th Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry for 2011-2012.

Levine will take up his duties in the fall, opening the Library's annual literary season with a reading of his work at the Coolidge Auditorium on Monday, Oct. 17.

"Philip Levine is one of America's great narrative poets," Billington said. "His plainspoken lyricism has, for half a century, championed the art of telling ‘The Simple Truth'--about working in a Detroit auto factory, as he has, and about the hard work we do to make sense of our lives."

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    1. Hometown:
      Fresno, California
    1. Date of Birth:
      January 10, 1928
    2. Place of Birth:
      Detroit, Michigan
    1. Education:
      B.A., Wayne State University; M.F.A., Iowa Writers Workshop, University of Iowa

Read an Excerpt

OUR VALLEY

We don't see the ocean, not ever, but in July and August when the worst heat seems to rise from the hard clay of this valley, you could be walking through a fig orchard when suddenly the wind cools and for a moment you get a whiff of salt, and in 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, but if you live here you begin to believe they know everything.
They maintain that huge silence we think of as divine,
a silence that grows in autumn when snow falls slowly between the pines and the wind dies to less than a whisper and you can barely catch your breath because you're thrilled and terrified.

You have to remember this isn't your land.
It belongs to no one, like the sea you once lived beside and thought was yours. Remember the small boats that bobbed out as the waves rode in, and the men who carved a living from it only to find themselves carved down to nothing. Now you say this is home,
so go ahead, worship the mountains as they dissolve in dust,
wait on the wind, catch a scent of salt, call it our life.

THE HEART OF OCTOBER

Dusk south of Barcelona, the slopes leading up to the fortress, a city of wooden crates and cardboard shacks staggers up the mountain as the rain runs down, a black river. The final night,
I whisper to no one. A patch of red,
the single moving thing, comes toward me to become the shirt of a young girl,
eleven or twelve. Bare- legged, picking her way to avoid the sharp stones,
she reaches me. Through perfect teeth in her perfect mouth she demands a duro,
one hand held out. Only one duro,
she insists, stamping a naked foot,
browned and filthy on the filthy earth.
When I pay up and turn for home she is beside me laughing as the rain streams down her forehead, her short hair a black cap plastered in place. "A duro! "
she demands again. "Another?" I say.
"Yes, of course," she laughs into the face of the rain, "and after that another."
Even a child knows the meaning of rain:
it is the gift of October, a gift that arrives on time each autumn to darken the makeshift shacks and lighten the hillside with a single splash of color.

NEWS OF THE WORLD

Once we were out of Barcelona the road climbed past small farm-
houses hunched down on the gray, chalky hillsides. The last person we saw was a girl in her late teens in a black dress & gray apron carrying a chicken upside down by the claws. She looked up &
smiled. An hour later the land opened into enormous green meadows.
At the frontier a cop asked in guttural Spanish almost as bad as mine why were we going to Andorra. "Tourism," I said. Laughing,
he waved us through. The rock walls of the valley were so abrupt the town was only a single street wide. Blue plumes of smoke ascended straight into the darkening sky. The next morning we found what we'd come for: the perfect radio, French- made,
portable, lightweight, slightly garish with its colored dial &
chromed knobs, inexpensive. "Because of the mountains, reception is poor," the shop owner said, so he tuned in the local Communist station beamed to Spain. "Communist?" I said. Oh yes, they'd come twenty- five years ago to escape the Germans, & they'd stayed.
"Back then," he said, "we were all reds." "And now?" I said. Now he could sell me anything I wanted. "Anything?" He nodded. A
tall, graying man, his face carved down to its essentials. "A Cadillac?"
I said. Yes, of course, he could get on the phone & have it out front— he checked his pocket watch— by four in the afternoon.
"An American film star?" One hand on his unshaved cheek, he gazed upward at the dark beamed ceiling. "That could take a week."

From the Hardcover edition.

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