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About this poet

Phillis Levin was born in 1954 in Paterson, New Jersey. She began writing at an early age and received a BA in poetry, philosophy, and psychology from Sarah Lawrence College in 1976. She went on to receive an MA from the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University in 1977.

Her first book, Temples and Fields (University of Georgia Press, 1988), was awarded the Poetry Society of America’s Norma Farber First Book Award, and in 1989 she became an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Maryland, College Park, where she taught through 2001.

She is the author of Mr. Memory & Other Poems (Penguin, 2016), May Day (Penguin, 2008), Mercury (Penguin, 2001), and The Afterimage (Copper Beech Press, 1995). Rosanna Warren notes, “Phillis Levin’s poems are both hot and cool—at once molten glass and shaped crystalline structure. With her abstracting and philosophical intelligence, she muses on patterns of passion and loss; with her heart, she makes us feel them.”

Levin also edited The Penguin Book of the Sonnet: 500 Years of a Classic Tradition in English (Penguin, 2001), which Kimiko Hahn calls “one of my desert-island books!” She has taught creative writing at the 92nd Street Y, New York University, The New School, and Hofstra University, where she has served as a Professor of English and the Poet-in-Residence since 2001.

She is the recipient of a Fulbright Scholarship, an Ingram Merrill Grant, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. She lives with her husband, Jack Shanewise, in New York City.

Selected Bibliography

Mr. Memory & Other Poems (Penguin, 2016)
May Day (Penguin, 2008)
Mercury (Penguin, 2001)
The Afterimage (Copper Beech Press, 1995)
Temples and Fields (University of Georgia Press, 1988)

May Day

I've decided to waste my life again,
Like I used to: get drunk on
The light in the leaves, find a wall
Against which something can happen,

Whatever may have happened
Long ago—let a bullet hole echoing
The will of an executioner, a crevice
In which a love note was hidden,

Be a cell where a struggling tendril
Utters a few spare syllables at dawn.
I've decided to waste my life
In a new way, to forget whoever

Touched a hair on my head, because
It doesn't matter what came to pass,
Only that it passed, because we repeat
Ourselves, we repeat ourselves.

I've decided to walk a long way
Out of the way, to allow something
Dreaded to waken for no good reason,
Let it go without saying,

Let it go as it will to the place	
It will go without saying: a wall
Against which a body was pressed
For no good reason, other than this.

From May Day by Phillis Levin. Copyright © 2008 by Phillis Levin. Used by permission of Penguin. All rights reserved.

From May Day by Phillis Levin. Copyright © 2008 by Phillis Levin. Used by permission of Penguin. All rights reserved.

Phillis Levin

Phillis Levin

Phillis Levin is the author of Mr. Memory & Other Poems (Penguin, 2016).

by this poet

Of something, separate, not 
Whole; a role, something to play 
While one is separate or parting; 

Also a piece, a section, as in
Part of me is here, part of me 
Is missing; an essential portion,

Something falling to someone 
In division; a particular voice 
Or instrument (also the score

For it), or line of
Flame under the bubbling water.  
Blue flame. Water ready for tea.
Amber infusion soon to be seeping, 
Leaves about to uncurl. Here 
Is a tin, a spoon, a cup, an open 
Teapot saying, Nobody else but me


in memory of Jean Blecker Levin

Not a trace, those days, not a sign
On a map of where you were from,
That farm greener than green

Rolling hills, hay high as a barn
Under skies without end, joy
Rolling too, the way