What is work? This is the question that poet Philip Levine, who died last Saturday, asked many times. He started working in a Detroit factory at age 14. He believed that his work as a poet was “to name and recover,” and to stand up for the “victimized, the disfranchised, the fallen.” In an 1988 Paris Review interview, he said that he wrote about people who “didn’t seem to make it into other people’s poems,” those “who survived in the face of so much discouragement.” I admire Levine’s clarity: he knew what his work was and who it was for.
Philip Levine, What Work Is, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1992), p. 18.