(Let’s try this again.) Two former colleagues of poet Philip Levine remember his work:
Peter: I don’t know whether he told me this or whether he told it to somebody else or just told it as an anecdote, but somewhere along the way he said, you know, you don’t have to write like a prince. You don’t have to have the language of a prince. He kind of mocked that kind of language.
And what he did, and sometimes it’s hard to realize, looking at his earlier work, is that he chose syllabics. He would choose the odd number of syllables in a line. Seven, nine, eleven. So he wouldn’t fall into a metrical pattern. And that meant he would break a line at a word like “be” or “and” or — you know, nobody was doing that. You’re supposed to save important words for the end of a line. [chuckles]
And he did it, I think, to get more of that colloquial voice into [the poems], and the speed of narrative, and the strange intimacy that was always in Phil. Even in his very early, formal work, before he went to Stanford [to teach], he just kept going more and more intimate. And that’s really part of what I loved about his work, that intense interest in the poem, that passion in the poem, that focus and discipline.