What work was and what work is: The work poetry of Philip Levine

Scott E Palmieri, Salve Regina University


The goal of this dissertation is to explain Philip Levine's unique perspective on work in our lives. Levine sets out to describe the difficult and dangerous conditions of the work he experienced in his various industrial jobs in and around the city of Detroit. He attempts to depict the physical and psychological burdens of such a working life for him and his co-workers. Given all that is involved with work in our lives, Levine demonstrates the various influences that keep individuals in such working conditions. The specific working time of the shift labor provides interesting starts and stops that allow the poet to explore those influences through moments of reflection and revelation. Through the use of Michel Foucault, this dissertation will show the self-discipline performed by these workers as they cling to an identity that does them harm. Levine employs familial and religious allusions to express how the workers come to view themselves in their daily lives and over a lifetime. Because Levine was able to leave those times, he is able to offer a unique perspective on that working life as it has affected him his entire life, though he has enjoyed a long career as a poet. His life as a factory worker and as a poet are ever entwined and affecting one another. Levine is able to perform what Foucault calls "resistance" against the dehumanizing work of the past because of his art and of the compassion he exudes in wanting to return to his working past, especially to those who never left.

Subject Area

American literature

Recommended Citation

Palmieri, Scott E, "What work was and what work is: The work poetry of Philip Levine" (2010). Doctoral Dissertations. AAI3436835.