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The Mercy

3.97 of 5 stars 3.97  ·  rating details  ·  119 ratings  ·  13 reviews
Philip Levine's new collection of poems (his first since The Simple Truth was awarded the Pulitzer Prize) is a book of journeys: the necessary ones that each of us takes from innocence to experience, from youth to age, from confusion to clarity, from sanity to madness and back again, from life to death, and occasionally from defeat to triumph. The book's mood is best captu ...more
Paperback, 96 pages
Published October 24th 2000 by Knopf (first published 1999)
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Image Magazine 100 Writers of Faith
91st out of 116 books — 32 voters
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27th out of 88 books — 36 voters

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Matt Lee Sharp
I feel with Philip Levine such a plain emotional connection. all of his poetry feels so grounded, feels so much like stories being passed down to me. his work is a kind of midwestern mythology, and the longer you read it, the more familiar you become with the characters and geography. There's no required previous reading for this collection. It'd make a great introduction to his work.
Fascinating blue-collar, working-class poetry which beautifully invokes a crushing industrial landscape and the endless struggle of its denizens to carve out decent, human lives within it.
I discovered Philip Levine while surfing the Atlantic Monthly (or is it just called Atlantic?) website. Two of his poems really spoke to me: He would Never Use One Word Where None Would Do and The Return. I especially liked He would Never Use One Word Where None Would Do because at the time I was dealing with someone who talked non-stop about every intimate detail of his life- and it drove me crazy.
Sep 23, 2007 Laurel added it
Levine is one of the most lively poets whose books I've read or who I've heard read in person. His Detroit steel background melds with the tough-soft potrayals of characters, dialogue, and vivid settings. Like a good short story with a beginning, middle, and end, Levine leaves the reader feeling complete. Philip Levine
This is my first time reading Philip Levine, and it was a happy discovery. A number of the poems are gritty and memorable, yet a number also seem to fall off and Levine doesn't really pull them off. All in all, powerful, memorable, yet uneven.
Sep 18, 2011 Caroline marked it as to-read
Shelves: poetry
I had the privilege of hearing him read a few of his poems a couple nights ago at the Univ. of MDCP and he was captivating. I look forward to poring over his work and recapturing what I felt that night.
Maybe my favorite collection of his...though I haven't read each of his books. My personal favorite poem from this collection is 'After Leviticus'. Think about the title after you've read it...
Oct 09, 2007 Deb rated it 2 of 5 stars
Shelves: poetry
I was about halfway through this when I lent it to Ryler before he left on tour. It was okay - so far Levine isn't my cup of tea, but he's definitely a good writer.
Jamie Ross
This is the guy I want to take to a smokey bar after a long week just to have him buy me a shot of whiskey and tell me what it feels like going down.
One of the first books Guion lent me when we started dating.
Miami University Libraries
King Library (2nd floor) | PS3562.E9 M47 1999
Amy Kitchell-Leighty
I loved the front cover photo
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Philip Levine (b. January 10, 1928, Detroit, Michigan. d. February 14, 2015, Fresno, California) was a Pulitzer Prize-winning American poet best known for his poems about working-class Detroit.

He taught for over thirty years at the English Department of California State University, Fresno and held teaching positions at other universities as well. He is appointed to serve as the Poet Laureate of t
More about Philip Levine...
What Work Is: Poems The Simple Truth New Selected Poems News of the World Breath

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The Mercy

The ship that took my mother to Ellis Island
eighty-three years ago was named "The Mercy."
She remembers trying to eat a banana
without first peeling it and seeing her first orange
in the hands of a young Scot, a seaman
who gave her a bite and wiped her mouth for her
with a red bandana and taught her the word,
"orange," saying it patiently over and over.
A long autumn voyage, the days darkening
with the black waters calming as night came on,
then nothing as far as her eyes could see and space
without limit rushing off to the corners
of creation. She prayed in Russian and Yiddish
to find her family in New York, prayers
unheard or misunderstood or perhaps ignored
by all the powers that swept the waves of darkness
before she woke, that kept "The Mercy" afloat
while smallpox raged among the passengers
and crew until the dead were buried at sea
with strange prayers in a tongue she could not fathom.
"The Mercy," I read on the yellowing pages of a book
I located in a windowless room of the library
on 42nd Street, sat thirty-one days
offshore in quarantine before the passengers
disembarked. There a story ends. Other ships
arrived, "Tancred" out of Glasgow, "The Neptune"
registered as Danish, "Umberto IV,"
the list goes on for pages, November gives
way to winter, the sea pounds this alien shore.
Italian miners from Piemonte dig
under towns in western Pennsylvania
only to rediscover the same nightmare
they left at home. A nine-year-old girl travels
all night by train with one suitcase and an orange.
She learns that mercy is something you can eat
again and again while the juice spills over
your chin, you can wipe it away with the back
of your hands and you can never get enough.”
More quotes…