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Philip Levine – “Animals Are Passing From Our Lives”

Greetings Poetry Lovers,

So this particular poem from Philip Levine, the United States Poet Laureate, has been on my mind a lot lately.  I’m not 100% why, but I feel as though it could have something to do with having graduated from college and beginning to face the real world out there.  The poem is one of those seemingly lighthearted, joking poems that waits until the very end to basically slap you across the face with a surprisingly heart-wrenching ending.  The ending in this poem in particular is where the title of the collection of poetry it comes out of is derived.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m now officially graduated from college.  So now, when I’m not searching for a job, I can dedicate more of my time to updating this blog.  I’ve got a few ideas in mind to both diversify and narrow in various aspects of the blog, and those changes will be coming into effect soon.  For now, enjoy the poem.  I’ll be back with more soon.

Stephen Recker

Picture of a pig

Animals Are Passing From Our Lives

It’s wonderful how I jog
on four honed-down ivory toes
my massive buttocks slipping
like oiled parts with each light step.

I’m to market.  I can smell
the sour, grooved block, I can smell
the blade that opens the hole
and the pudgy white fingers

that shake out the intestines
like a hankie.  In my dreams
the snouts drool on the marble,
suffering children, suffering flies,

suffering the consumers
who won’t meet their steady eyes
for fear they could see.  The boy
who drives me along believes

that any moment I’ll fall
on my side and drum my toes
like a typewriter or squeal
and shit like a new housewife

discovering television,
or that I’ll turn like a beast
cleverly to hook his teeth
with my teeth.  No.  Not this pig.

— Philip Levine

Not This Pig – Philip Levine

As far as titles for books of poetry go, Not This Pig could very well be one of my favorites. I picked up a couple Philip Levine books after he recently became the new Poet Laureate of the United States.  This was the first book I received a few months back and I’ve had the pleasure of reading through it a number of times.  Levine has an uncanny ability to write poetry that doesn’t just demand to be read, but demands to be read aloud.  Early in the collection with the poem “In A Grove Again” I found myself doing just that.  The opening stanza describes how “We stand in a grove where it’s not snowing/ with snow in our hair and on the tops of our shoes/ and along the life of the boughs that bring/ forth the blossoms of snow.”  The speaker for a majority of these poems is almost never alone.  He is experiencing these instances with others and, sometimes, with the reader of the poem as well.  “Who are you?” accomplishes the latter.  In this poem, the speaker places the reader into the role of his six-year-old son.

The realizations that come through some of the poems are surprising in their ability to grasp towards some ultimate truth in a seemingly common or mundane situation.  Two poems stood out to me as demonstrating this ability.  “To a Child Trapped in a Barber Shop” is a brief coming of age poem describing a kid’s first trip to the barber.  The speaker of the poem identifies with the child saying, “We’ve all been here before” and culminates in the brief line towards the end of the poem stating simply “we stopped crying.”  The other poem, “Animals Are Passing From Our Lives,” is where the title of the collection is derived.  The poem is written from the perspective of a pig walking towards the slaughterhouse.  It begins humorously with the pig taking pride in his “massive buttocks slipping/ like oiled parts with each light step,” but transitions as the pig shows he knows where he is headed.  The tension of the poem rises as it nears the end as the pig notices that the person herding him towards his death shows worries that the pig may put up a fight.  The poem though ends with a stark refusal to fight the fate he has been handed by consumers stating “No. Not this pig.”

All that said, there were a few poems that were overly weird or just confusing.  I always have a hard time following poems that go on for pages and “Silent in America” does just that.  It’s a speedbump to the collection and drew me out of my enjoyment.  There are also several poems that seem to deal with rape and odd sexual content.  In “The Morning After the Storm” it was hard to tell if the speaker of the poem had raped someone or not.  The two other sexual poems were just very weird.  One “The Midget” seemed to be about running into a drunk little person that tries to offer sex to the speaker of the poem for no apparent reason.  “Baby Villon” also has some slight sexual tension that feels just out of place.

All that aside though, the good far outweighs the occasional hiccups of some hard to follow poems.  If you are into reading poems that have nice concrete messages that are truly surprising in their simplicity it would be worth your time to give this one a read.

Final Verdict:

3/4 – Worth checking out

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