- WEN STEPHENSONAPR 1 1999, 12:00 AM ET
April 8, 1999
"The American experience," the poet Philip Levine writes in (1994), "is to return and discover one cannot even find the way, for the streets abruptly end, replaced by freeways, the houses have been removed for urban renewal that never takes place, and nothing remains." What has remained for Levine -- born in Detroit, in 1928, to parents who were Russian-Jewish immigrants -- is memory. Few writers have made one time and place as singularly their own as has Levine in his elegies for the working-class life of the city he knew as a child and young man. Yet when Levine visited Detroit in the aftermath of the devastating 1967 riots -- an event that spurred him on to write one of his best-known and most indelible poems, "They Feed They Lion" -- it was a city that he no longer recognized.