Philip Levine was born in Detroit of Russian-Jewish immigrant parents; his experiences of the Depression and World War II in that city play a central role in his poetry. In an interview, Levine said that he spent most of his childhood fighting against people who attacked him because he was Jewish. His father died when he was young (apparently in 1933, according to the poem titled “1933”), and both his parents often appear in his many poems that explore the past. According to Levine, the workers he knew as a child and as a young man had a great effect on him; various immigrant anarchists have affected his politics. After his 1954 marriage to Frances Artley, they had three sons: Mark, John, and Theodore.
Because Levine often writes from personal experience, it is possible to draw a picture of him and his relationships from his poems. He has written many poems about his grandparents, parents, brother, sister, wife, and each of his three sons. Not all the “facts” in his work, however, may necessarily be true. The poems do reveal much about the writer, but the poet’s tendency to fictionalize must be kept in mind.
After holding a number of jobs, including working in a foundry, Levine attended Wayne State University, where he studied under John Berryman, receiving a B.A. degree in 1950 and an M.A. in 1955. He refused to serve in the Korean War, and although this was clearly a political protest on his part, he was declared 4-F for...
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