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The Simple Truth

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4.21  ·  Rating details ·  679 ratings  ·  54 reviews
Written in a voice that moves between elegy and prayer, The Simple Truth contains thirty-three poems whose aim is to weave a complex tapestry of myth, history (both public and private), family, memory, and invention in a search for truths so basic and universal they often escape us all.
Paperback, 69 pages
Published September 3rd 1996 by Knopf (first published 1994)
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Average rating 4.21  · 
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Noha
Jan 04, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry
3.5

I honestly enjoyed this collection. Levine's writing is very simple. You can feel the calmness in each line, idk if you get what i mean! These poems are very quiet 'n lovely.


“Some things
you know all your life. They are so simple and true
they must be said without elegance, meter and rhyme,
they must be laid on the table beside the salt shaker-”


I'm definitely looking forward to read more of his work.
Harper Curtis
Nov 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Brilliant, engaging, human and personal. Levine is one of the greats.

Ask for Nothing

Instead walk alone in the evening
heading out of town toward the fields
asleep under a darkening sky;
the dust risen from your steps transforms
itself into a golden rain fallen
earthward as a gift from no known god.
The plane trees along the canal bank
the few valley poplars, hold their breath
as you cross the wooden bridge that leads
nowhere you haven't been, for this walk
repeats itself once or more a day.
That is why in
...more
Dave
Nov 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing
The one poet I would take to a desert island. Deceptively simple and straight-forward. The voice of America from the jobs and small houses of second generation immigrants establishing a place in industrial might of our mid-Century. A voice of grey smoke and dirty rivers and people getting up in the morning in the dark.
Mike
Jan 18, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Ask for Nothing

Instead walk alone in the evening
heading out of town toward the fields
asleep under a darkening sky;
the dust risen from your steps transforms
itself into a golden rain fallen
earthward as a gift from no known god.
The plane trees along the canal bank
the few valley poplars, hold their breath
as you cross the wooden bridge that leads
nowhere you haven't been, for this walk
repeats itself once or more a day.
That is why in the distance you see
beyond the first ridge of low hills
where nothing
...more
Jen
Jul 04, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry
I'm not sure what prompted me to finally get a volume of Philip Levine's poetry. Perhaps I'd heard of his passing earlier this year. I've been curious about his poetry ever since first reading "You Can Have It" (available here http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/...) in an anthology many years ago. I've enjoyed other poems of his I've run across over the years. I chose The Simple Truth because it won him a Pulitzer so I thought it might represent some of his best work. However, I doubt that's ...more
robin friedman
Dec 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Phillip Levine's Simple Truth

Philip Levine writes in the title poem of this collection:
"Some things/you know all your life. They are so simple and true/they must be said without elegance, meter and rhyme,/they must be laid on the table beside the salt shaker,/the glass of water, the absence of light gathering/ in the shadows of picture frames, they must be/ naked and alone, they must stand for themselves."

These lines capture many of the themes of this Pulitzer-prize winning book. The poems in
...more
Ann
Jun 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This 1995 Pulitzer Prize-winning volume by the great American poet Philip Levine deserves its heady accolades. Harold Bloom wrote at the time of its release: "I wonder if any American poet since Walt Whitman himself has written elegies this consistently magnificent. The controlled pathos of every poem in the volume is immense, and gives me a new sense of Levine." Plain and exalted, the experience of reading this collection is as rich as reading a great novel. Some highlights:

from "The Poem of
...more
Katherine Emery
Dec 08, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone who breathes
"It is onions or potatoes, a pinch
of simple salt, the wealth of melting butter, it is obvious,
it stays in the back of your throat like a truth
you never uttered because the time was always wrong,
it stays there for the rest of your life, unspoken,
made of that dirt we call earth, the metal we call salt,
in a form we have no words for, and you live on it."
Daniel Rosler
May 31, 2013 rated it really liked it
Bought this on a whim because I saw Cameron McGill post about it. Needed something to read, and he spoke so fondly of it. Can't deny I was curious, though it appears superficial, that it won the '95 Pulitzer Prize.

At first, I wasn't sure if I was enjoying it. But the more I got accustomed to Levine's style, the more I fell in love. Absolutely feeling inspired thanks to this collection.
Sam
Jan 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry, fun-lit, usa
This guy came to me by way of Joseph Millar recommendation. It's obvious that Levine has been a strong influence on Millar (and others, I would assume): long lines, narrative poems, descriptions of work, occasional references to the Spanish Civil War... Among the many, many collections that Levine published, I grabbed this one because it won the Pulitzer. It’s almost immediately apparent that this is a book of recollection, a book of remembering, rather than an “urgent” book—Levine was almost 70 ...more
Wardah Beg
Jun 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
By the time I realised it isn't for me, I was already halfway through the book, so I took it as an argument that it isn't really as boring and dry as I think.
Continued reading it, and I found myself falling in love with the style. These poems are in the form of lyrical elegies that feel easy on the tongue; and Mr Levine expertly describes things with such detailed imagery that the scenarios he paints become as vivid as reality. He successfully brings, through narrative, the simple truth that we
...more
Rachel Gordon
Oct 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
This is the first book of poetry I ever fell in love with. A friend on my year abroad in college had brought it with her to Ecuador, and I borrowed it repeatedly, and ordered a copy the minute I got home (it was also probably the first book I ever ordered through a local bookstore and paid full MSRP for). It’s still magic to me. “Ask for nothing” remains probably my favorite poem in the world.
Marlee
A lovely little volume. Some of the images and rhythms are truly astounding. I think my favorite is “No Buyers,” especially the line “perhaps it’s light in tiny diamonds meant to consecrate the day or dirty it.” I also really liked “Magpiety.”
Keshia
Jun 10, 2018 rated it it was ok
Not my cup of tea
James
Aug 24, 2019 rated it it was ok
Kind of meh. Some interesting lines but a lot of references to his own life which I didn’t quite understand. More prosaic than poetic in style, broken up into verses with poetic themes. Not a fan.
David Czuba
Apr 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry, writing
'Photography' is one of the best poems I've read in a long time.
Theelmo26
Nov 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
I honestly enjoyed this collection. Levine's writing is very simple. You can feel the calmness in each line, idk if you get what i mean! These poems are very quiet 'n lovely
Julie Koh
Mar 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I love the calmness and the clarity and, most importantly, the well-worn wisdom that support the length and breadth of these poems. I will miss his poetry greatly now that he has passed.
Diana
Jun 20, 2013 rated it really liked it
The Simple Truth is just that. It is straightforward, I suspect that it is highly autobiographical, and it is a really good book. Most of the poems seem to be set in the 1960s, although the collection was published in 1994. Many of the poems describe Levine's hometown, Detroit.

As long as I have been alive, optimists have been asserting that Detroit is set for a comeback, while the pessimists/realists have left the city and look back at it only from the other side of Eight Mile. It was
...more
Julene
Jan 02, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
This Pulitzer Prize (1995) winning book is the work of a seasoned poet. He is so skilled at lyric narrative; I reread this book for it's infinite layers. There are many elegies in this book.
In a poem titled The Poem of Chalk he writes, "He knew/the whole history of chalk, not only/of this particular piece, but also/the chalk with which I wrote/my name the day they welcomed/me back to school after the death/of my father. He knew feldspar,/he knew calcium, oyster shells, he/knew what creatures had
...more
Xan
I'm not a huge poetry reader, but as my Library was hosting the Poet Laureate in a web event I thought I would take the opportunity to read some of his poetry beforehand as this book just happened across my desk. I'm so glad I did. I understand now why they call Philip Levin the Working Man's Poet. His poetry is down to earth and approachable, with everyday themes and words that make the reader feel at home, even welcomed into the pages. I am a fan.
Helen
Feb 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
The Simple Truth, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry in 1995, is perhaps Levine's most basic, streamlined collection. As the title poem states

Some things
you know all your life. They are so simple and true
they must be said without elegance, meter and rhyme,
they must be laid on the table beside the salt shaker...
they must stand for themselves.

And the poems in this collection do just that. Lovely, quiet, and powerful.
Sheri Fresonke Harper
I enjoyed this collection but didn't like it as well as "The Mercy" but it shares many of the same style characteristics in the poems--lyricism, story telling, presence in the moment. There was less a sense of awe in some of them that I liked so well in "The Mercy" but these are very much in touch with everyday living and a good, easy read and taste treat when read poem by poem
Patrick Mcgee
Apr 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This collection is a powerful book of poetry that is also beautiful, mesmerizing, and thought-provoking. If you are a fan of narrative style poetry and you haven't checked out Levine, you should do so now. Highly recommended and quite evident why it won the Pulitzer.
Jerry Landry
Jul 30, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2012-reads
Philip Levine’s Pulitzer Prize winning book of poetry, The Simple Truth, takes the reader on a journey through the ins and outs of life, death and everything in between. Some of the poems had such a haunting lyricism that one at times felt entangled within the words.
PG
Oct 09, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
See that score in a half-full light. 3/5 frequently taken for meh, mine is one of approval. Didn't occupy my day, nor the whole morning, but as poetry isn't my leisure, I believe I benefitted. Three in the collection stood tallest. Two from II, and one III.
Joe Stack
Feb 20, 2016 rated it liked it
These are biographical poems that transcend Levine's personal life. Rooted in his connections with family and others, the poems explore personal connections that each reader may appreciate on a personal level. The past in evident in the present. Levine's writing is calm, thoughtful, and lyrical.
Margery
Mar 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Wow, wow, wow! I see why Philip Levine got the Pulitzer Prize for this collection. If you have not read this recently deceased poet, you are missing some absolutely beautiful writing. More like verse a than poetry. So easy to read--a sheer joy.
James Hemby
Apr 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
Pulitzer Prize for poetry, 1995
D'Anne
Jan 02, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
Title poem by itself is easily worth 5 stars. It is really, really great. The rest of the collection is mostly just good. But hey, good isn't bad.
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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
...more
“Oh, yes, let’s bless the imagination. It gives us the myths we live by. Let’s bless the visionary power of the human— the only animal that’s got it—, bless the exact image of your father dead and mine dead, bless the images that stalk the corners of our sight and will not let go.” 6 likes
“If she were writing by candlelight she would now be in the dark, for a living flame would refuse to be fed by such pure exhaustion. Actually she is in the dark, for the” 1 likes
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