Philip Levine

Philip Levine

1955 - 1957
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John Berryman’s class at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, with students Philip Levine, Robert Dana, Donald Justice, W.D. Snodgrass

Students recall their time in the Workshop (when classes were taught in the Quonset Huts by the Iowa River) in the collection Seems like Old Times in the University of Iowa archives:

“…to have been in John Berryman’s extraordinary and intense poetry workshop with W. D. Snodgrass, Donald Justice, Philip Levine, Paul Petrie, Robert Dana, Constance Urdang, Jane Cooper, Donald Finkel, Henri Coulette—the list continues beyond the capacity of my memory, but it was a course I approached with rapture and fear, owing in part to Berryman’s sometimes jagged abruptness, as when, having warned me beforehand that he was going to exhibit the profound mortality of one of my works, he held it out at arm’s length in the class, looked at it with loathing, and said, “Now, what are we to say about this ridiculous poem?”

Dinger, Ed, ed. Seems Like Old Times. Iowa City, 1986. Iowa Writers’ Workshop jubilee. Main; Archives.


Philip Levine & Sam Hamill reading, Iowa City, Iowa, 1984

Iowa City
123 S Linn St

Philip Levine & Sam Hamill reading, Iowa City, Iowa, 1984.


Iowa Digital Library, Virtual Writing University Archive

Literary Reference

Philip Levine at Kenney’s Bar

Kenney's Bar
125 South Clinton St.

Philip Levine’s work was included in an anthology of poems about Kenney’s, a famous bar in Iowa City. Kenney’s is no longer in operation, but it was a well-known hangout for writers in town. The collection also includes works by Marvin Bell, Stephen Berg, William Dickey, Paul Engle, Peter Everwine, Anselm Hollo, Donald Justice, Vern Rutsala, William Stafford, Mark Strand, James Tate, Mona Van Duyn and many others.

Kenney’s: Twenty Poems For a Lost Tavern. City, IA: The Windhover Press, 1970.


Philip Levine on John Berryman and Robert Lowell

Iowa Writers' Workshop (Dey House)
507 North Clinton Street, Iowa City, Iowa

Philip Levine talks about being taught by Robert Lowell and John Berryman at the University of Iowa, where his classmates included Donald Justice, W.D. Snodgrass and Henri Coulette.

Naomi Jaffa, Aldeburgh Poetry Festival, November 2009


Philip Levine Plaque on Iowa Avenue Literary Walk

Philip Levine’s plaque on the Iowa Ave Literary Walk reads “Instead I was born in the wrong year and in the wrong place, and I made my way so slowly and badly that I remember every single turn, and each one smells like an overblown rose, yellow, American, beautiful, and true.”


Levine, Philip. New Selected Poems. Alfred A. Knopf, 2011.


Philip Levine reading, The University of Iowa, late 20th century

Van Allen Hall
30 North Dubuque Street

In this recording, Philip Levine reads at Van Allen Hall on The University of Iowa campus, date unknown (late 20th century).

Iowa Digital Library, Virtual Writing University Archive


Philip Levine reads at the University of Iowa

University of Iowa Main Library
125 West Washington St.

Philip Levine reading his poetry at the University of Iowa Main Library, in 2012.

Image Credit: By Feddacheenee – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Philip Levine is a Pulitzer Prize-winning American poet best known for his poems about working-class Detroit. He was appointed to serve as the Poet Laureate of the United States for 2011–2012. Levine taught at the University of Iowa from 1955 and 1957.

While working in the vehicle factories of Detroit, Michigan, Levine became determined to find a voice for those of America’s industrial cities. His poetry tells of the despair and hopelessness felt by the working class. Levine was born in Detroit where he attended Wayne State University. After working for several companies, including Chevy Gear and Axle and Detroit Transmission, he arrived at the University of Iowa where he taught and received an M.F.A. degree in 1957. He has taught at numerous institutions including California State University and Tufts University in Massachusetts. Among his poetry books are Silent in America: Vivas for Those Who Failed (1965), They Feed They Lion (1972), and the Pulitzer Prize-winning works What Work Is (1991) and The Simple Truth: Poems (1994). Levine is also the author of The Bread of Time: Toward Autobiography (1994), a collection of nine essays.

Photograph by Frances Levine


Library of Congress URI