poem index

September 18th, 2007 East Harwich, Massachusetts From the Academy Audio Archive

About this poet

Born on July 23, 1959 iin Everett, Washington, Carl Phillips is the author of numerous books of poetry, including Silverchest (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013), Double Shadow (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012), Quiver of Arrows: Selected Poems 1986-2006 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007) and Riding Westward (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006). His collection The Rest of Love (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004) won the Theodore Roethke Memorial Foundation Poetry Prize and the Thom Gunn Award for Gay Male Poetry, and was a finalist for the National Book Award.

His other books include: Rock Harbor (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002); The Tether (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2001), winner of the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award; Pastoral (Graywolf Press, 2000), winner of the Lambda Literary Award; From the Devotions (Graywolf Press, 1998), finalist for the National Book Award; Cortége (Graywolf Press, 1995), finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; and In the Blood (Northeastern University Press, 1992), winner of the Samuel French Morse Poetry Prize.

His work has been anthologized in The Vintage Book of Contemporary American Poetry (Vintage Books, 2003), edited by J. D. McClatchy; Poems, Poets, Poetry: An Introduction and Anthology (St. Martin's Press, 2002), edited by Helen Vendler; Gay and Lesbian Poetry in Our Time (St. Martin's Press, 1988); Contemporary American Poetry (Houghton Mifflin, 2001); and The Vintage Book of African American Poetry (Vintage Books, 2000). His poems have also been chosen eight times for the annual Best American Poetry series. Phillips is also the author of a book of prose, Coin of the Realm: Essays on the Art and Life of Poetry (Graywolf Press, 2004), and the translator of Sophocles’s Philoctetes (Oxford University Press, 2003).

His honors include the 2006 Academy of American Poets Fellowship, an Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Pushcart Prize, the Academy of American Poets Prize, induction into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the Library of Congress.

Ancient Greek and Roman writers, especially Thucydides, Cicero, and Tacitus, were an early influence for Phillips. He studied their work extensively in college, and through them learned "how forceful syntax can be in conveying nuance" as well as the use of "compression when conveying psychological and emotional crisis." Later, while studying with Geoffrey Hill, he discovered English Metaphysical poets such as George Herbert and John Donne.

According to the Judges' Citation for the 1998 National Book Awards, "Carl Phillips's passionate and lyrical poems read like prayers, with a prayer's hesitations, its desire to be utterly accurate, its occasional flowing outbursts."

Phillips served as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 2006 to 2012. He is Professor of English and of African and African American Studies at Washington University in St. Louis, where he also teaches in the Creative Writing Program. 

Multimedia

From the Image Archive

 

Passing

Carl Phillips, 1959
When the Famous Black Poet speaks,
I understand

that his is the same unnervingly slow 
rambling method of getting from A to B
that I hated in my father,
my father who always told me
don't shuffle.

The Famous Black Poet is
speaking of the dark river in the mind
that runs thick with the heroes of color,
Jackie R., Bessie, Billie, Mr. Paige, anyone
who knew how to sing or when to run. 
I think of my grandmother, said
to have dropped dead from the evil eye,
of my lesbian aunt who saw cancer and
a generally difficult future headed her way
in the still water
of her brother's commode.
I think of voodoo in the bottoms of soup-cans,
and I want to tell the poet that the blues
is not my name, that Alabama
is something I cannot use
in my business.

He is so like my father,
I don't ask the Famous Black Poet,
afterwards,
to remove his shoes,
knowing the inexplicable black
and pink I will find there, a cut 
gone wrong in five places.
I don't ask him to remove
his pants, since that too
is known, what has never known
a blade, all the spaces between,
where we differ .  .  .

I have spent years tugging
between my legs,
and proved nothing, really.
I wake to the sheets I kicked aside,
and examine where they've failed to mend
their own creases, resembling some silken
obstruction, something pulled
from my father's chest, a bad heart,
a lung,

the lung of the Famous Black Poet
saying nothing I want to understand. 

From In the Blood by Carl Phillips, published by Northeastern University Press. © 1992 by Carl Phillips. Reprinted with the permission of Northeastern University Press. All rights reserved.

Carl Phillips

Carl Phillips

Born on July 23, 1959, Carl Phillips's collection The Rest of Love won the Theodore Roethke Memorial Foundation Poetry Prize and the Thom Gunn Award for Gay Male Poetry

by this poet

poem

 

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poem
Perhaps,
in the exaggerated grace
of his weight
settling,

the wings
raised, held in
strike-or-embrace
position,

I recognized
something more
than swan, I can't say.

There was just
this barely defined
shoulder, whose feathers
came away in my hands,

and the bit of world
left beyond it, coming down

to the heat-
poem
Then spring came:
	           branches-in-a-wind. . .

I bought a harness, I bought a bridle.
I wagered on God in a kind stranger—
kind at first; strange, then less so—
and I was right.
	      The difference between
God and luck is that luck, when it leaves,
does not go far: the idea is to believe
you could