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Comparing any human life to “a restless choir” of impulses variously in conflict and at peace with one another, Carl Phillips, in his eleventh book, examines the double shadow that a life casts forth: “now risk, and now / faintheartedness.” In poems that both embody and inhabit this double shadow, risk and faintheartedness prove to have the power equally to rescue us from ourselves and to destroy us. Spare, haunted, and haunting, yet not without hope, Double Shadow argues for life as a wilderness through which there’s only the questing forward—with no regrets and no looking back.
As I understand it, I could
call him. Though it would help,
it is not required that I give him
a name first. Also, nothing
says he stops, then, or must turn.
—from “The Figure, the Boundary, the Light”
In the art of falconry, during training the tether between the gloved fist and the raptor’s anklets is gradually lengthened and eventually unnecessary. In these new lyric poems, Carl Phillips considers the substance of connection—between lover…[more]
Speak Low is the tenth book from one of America’s most distinctive—and one of poetry’s most essential—contemporary voices. Phillips has long been hailed for work provocative in its candor, uncompromising in its inquiry, and at once rigorous and innovative in its attention to craft. Over the course of nine critically acclaimed collections, he has generated a sustained meditation on the restless and ever-shifting myth of human identity. Desire and loss, mastery and subjugation, belief and doubt, sex, animal instinct, human reason: these are among the lenses through which Phillips examines what it means to be that most bewildering, irresolvable conundrum, a human being in the world.
These new poems are of a piece with Phillips’s previous work in their characteristic clarity and originality of thought, in their unsparing approach to morality and psychology, and in both the strength and startling flexibility of their line. Speak Low is the record of a powerful vision that, in its illumination of the human condition, has established itself as a necessary step toward our understanding of who we are in the twenty-first century.
In The Rest of Love, his seventh book, Carl Phillips examines the conflict between belief and disbelief, and our will to believe: Aren’t we always trying, Phillips asks, to contain or to stave off facing up to, even briefly, the hard truths we’re nevertheless attracted to? Phillips’s signature terse line and syntax enact this constant tension between abandon and control; following his impeccable interior logic, “passionately austere” (Rita Dove, The Washington Post Book World), Phillips plumbs the myths we make and return to in the name of desire—physical, emotional, and spiritual.
In his newest book, National Book Award finalist Carl Phillips creates a shadowy inner landscape where the field is the heart, and the heart itself has a beautifully, often treacherously flawed darkness that each of us seeks to penetrate, believing in the possibility of light. Examining how to fill and fulfill the life granted us—how to realize the self entirely, and in time—these rhythmically sequenced meditations circle the predicaments of our longing against the backdrop of pastoral tradition. How do we balance control and abandonment when making poetry, as well as in making a life with another person? How do we reconcile fleshly desire and spiritual intention? Tightly coherent, emotionally nuanced, Pastoral both enlarges and defines Phillips’s already impressive poetic territory.
With From the Devotions, Carl Phillips takes us even further into that dangerous space he has already made his own, where body and soul—ever restless—come explosively together. Speaking to a balance between decorum and pain, he offers here a devotional poetry that argues for faith, even without the comforting gods or the organized structures of revealed truth. Neither sage nor saint nor prophet, the poet is the listener, the mourner, the one who has some access to the maddening quarters of human consciousness, the wry Sibyl. From the Devotions is deeply felt, highly intelligent, and unsentimental, and cements Phillips’s reputation as a poet of enormous talent and depth.