Former U.S. poet laureate Philip Levine dies at 87

Philip Levine, a former auto worker turned acclaimed poet, died Saturday. He was 87.

His death was caused by complications from pancreatic cancer, the New York Times reported.

Levine was perhaps best known for tackling the world of the working-class through verse. It was a world he knew intimately from growing up in the industrial setting of Detroit.

“There’ll always be working people in my poems because I grew up with them, and I am a poet of memory,” Levine said.

He spoke about his working-class upbringing in this 2010 interview with PBS NewsHour’s Jeffrey Brown (You can read the transcript here):

From 2011 to 2012, Levine was United States poet laureate. He discussed the experience at age 83, with fellow laureate, Britain’s Carol Ann Duffy and PBS NewsHour’s Jeffrey Brown in 2012.

Levine’s collection of poems, “The Simple Truth,” garnered him a Pulitzer Prize in 1995. In 1991 and in 1980, he won National Book Awards for his works “Ashes: Poems New & Old” and “What Work Is.” Major publications like The New Yorker and Harper’s Magazine often published his works.

Levine was known for his earnestness, and the phrasing and cadence of his verses have been replicated by many mainstream poets, critics say.

An emeritus professor of English at California State University-Fresno, Levine is survived by his wife, three sons, two brothers and five grandchildren.

You can also read Levine’s poem “Our Valley“.