Adrian Stumpp's Reviews > They Feed They Lion & The Names of the Lost: Two Books of Poems

They Feed They Lion & The Names of the Lost by Philip Levine
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Jun 07, 10

bookshelves: american, literary, modern, poetry, war
Read in May, 2010

“Angel Butcher” is one of my all-time favorite poems. It has everything I seek in a first-rate poem: fascinating premise, light narrative, vivid imagery, an inspiring finish, and breathtaking metaphor on both the micro (line) and macro (holistic) levels. It is well grounded in reality but contains a mythic element. It’s personal without being elliptical, emotional without becoming sentimental, clever but not disingenuous, easy to read but not overly-simplistic. I wish the entire volume were as good, but it’s not.

Levine is fundamentally an excellent poet with a knack for profound metaphor. His syntax is mildly inventive but never so technical as to become oblique. His diction is spot on, almost always, and he does an excellent job of modulating his voice so that it is always sincere, always intimate, never confessional. But in these two books, now out of print and republished here together, his talents, which are vast, reach their full potential only occasionally and usually in brief spurts, lasting for no more than a few lines at a time. They Feed They Lion and The Names of the Lost contain precious few poems that measure up to “Angel Butcher.”

They Feed They Lion, which contains “Angel Butcher” is a chronicle of the lives of common people struggling with poverty in urban Detroit. The Names of the Lost is an elegiac collection concerned mainly with the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War and of the two is, in my opinion, the stronger book. Other highlights include parts of “Cry for Nothing,” part IV of “Angels of Detroit,” “They Feed They Lion,” “How Much Can It Hurt?” “To P.L., 1916-1937,” parts of “No One Remembers,” “For the Poets of Chile,” “A Late Answer,” and most of “To My God in His Sickness.”
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