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“Coming Close: Forty Essays on Philip Levine” by Mari L’Esperance & Thomas Q. Morin

Much-celebrated contemporary American poet Philip Levine

is the subject of Coming Close: Forty Essays on Philip Levine,

(Prairie Lights Press, 2013) a newly published compilation of essays

on Levine as teacher/mentor edited by Mari L’Esperance (2007

Poetry Kanto contributor) and Thomas Q. Morin.


philip levine Coming Close: Forty Essays on Philip Levine by Mari LEsperance & Thomas Q. Morin






After reading this book, if you don’t have a new-found appreciation

and respect for the poet and the man– Philip Levine– your heart is

simply beyond reach, if not repair.



[excerpt below from Kathy Fagan's essay "Homage to Mr. Levine"

in Coming Close: Forty Essays on Philip Levine (Prairie Lights

Books, 2013)]


“We are all of us breakable, but the unformed thing is especially

fragile. There is a tenderness to most young people. I am gentle

with my students because Mr. Levine was, in every essential way,

gentle with kme; I attend their poems with seriousness because Mr.

Levine attended to mine with seriousness. Writing of his teacher,

John Berryman,  Phil comments on Berryman’s ability to  “devestate

the students’ poems without crushing the students’ spirits.” Alas,

there is no poet or teacher good enough to teach someone how to

survive a life, much less a life of poetry. But Mr. Levine comes

close. There is only one Phil Levine: just my luck.”



[excerpt below from Dante Micheaux's essay "The Capricorn's

Pedagogy" in Coming Close: Forty Essays on Philip Levine.]


“As much revelry as was had that night, it could not compare to

the near sublime and fondest memory I keep of Phil. Two or three

weeks before our festivities, we were having a rather ordinary

workshop. Phil usually had an anecdote from the weekend or

earlier day, which would lead him to some recollection about

Fresno or line by Cesar Vallejo and then we would get down to

business. Yet, this night he somehow got onto William Carlos

Williams and, for a few moments, was completely gripped by

“The Sparrow.” He leaned over the table, his eyes glossy with

remembering, and began a recitation. Silence. The awe of being

in the company of a great name again. The agon, visible and

pulsating. In hindsight, those lines were Phil’s ultimate lesson:


Practical to the end,

it is the poem

of his existence

that triumphed


a wisp of feathers

flattened to the pavement,

wings spread symmetrically

as if in flight,

the head gone,

the black estucheon of the breast


an effigy of sparrow,

a dried wafer only,

left to say

and says it

without offense,


This was I,

a sparrow.

I did my best;







for more about Philip Levine 


a videotaped Library of Congress reading, 2011:


video object Coming Close: Forty Essays on Philip Levine by Mari LEsperance & Thomas Q. Morin







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