Carl Phillips: “To Sing a Song of Water”

 

Photographers Unknown, To Sing a Song of Water

Archery

           was still a thing, then. To have timed your arrow
perfectly meant watching the air for a moment
seem stitched throughout with a kind of
timelessness. To have straddled at last, correctly,
the storm of falling in love (and staying there) meant
the smell of apples, victory, tangerines, and smoke
all mixed together on the breath

of a stranger, half asleep still, just beginning to remember a bit,
as he stirs beside you. I dreamed we were young again,
he’s mumbling, as if to someone whose name he’s known
long enough to have called it out more than once in anger
and sex and fear equally. Somewhere happiness too,

right? All those hours spent trying to outstare the distance
of what the days must come to,

and pretending a choice to it: now the shadow-script
that willows and hazel trees mark the barn’s western
face with; now the wind-rippled field, like a lesser version—tamer,
tameable—of the sea, for movement (same infinite
pattern, and variation; randomness and intention; release;
restraint—that kind of movement) …

                                                         Dear saddle
of gentleness. Dear moss, sweet moss that only
the dark and wet and patience make possible. To sing a song
of  water, and not drown in it. And some calling that
a good trick. And some calling it

mastery. That last flickering before nightfall. From beneath
the low branches. I dreamed we were new again. Stars. Just a little
past dusk.

Carl Phillips, Archery, 2020

Born in Everett, Washington, in July of 1959, Carl Phillips is an American poet and writer. The child of a military family which changed residences year to year, he spent his teenage years in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Phillips earned his Bachelor of Arts from Harvard University, where he studied Latin and Greek. He next earned a Master of Arts in Teaching from the University of Massachusetts, and his Master of Arts in Creative Writing from Boston University. 

Phillips first began to write poetry in his teenage years, a time during which he constructed a world of his own that he could rely on. After entering Harvard University, he did not write any poetry for a long time; however, in 1990 after coming to terms with his identity as a gay man, Phiilips rediscovered his voice as a poet. A classicist by his formal training, he draws allusions to classical art, music and literature in his poems through the use of metaphors and associative words. His poems are often presented in a narrative form which is emphasized through the use of spaced pauses, italics, hyphens, ellipsis, and parentheses. 

Phillips published his first collection of poems, “In the Blood”, in 1992. This collection of love poems and poems based on Greek mythology and Christian iconography won the Samuel French Morse Poetry Prize. His second book, the 1995 “Cortège”, a collection which explores desire and the various points at which spirit and flesh intersect, was nominated tor the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Lambda Gay Men’s Poetry Award.

Carl Phillips’s collections, the 2000 “Pastoral” and the 2001 “The Tether”, winner of the Kingsley Tuft Poetry Award, were both well received by the critics. His seventh book, the 2005 “The Rest of Love”, examined the conflict between belief and disbelief and our ability to face up to hard truths. This collection won the 2005 Thom Gunn Award. Phillips’s recent work includes “Speak Low”, a 2009 work that was a finalist for the National Book Award; the 2011 “Double Shadow” which won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Poetry; and the 2013 “Silverchest” which was nominated for the Griffin Prize. His thirteenth collection of poems, the 2015 “Reconnaissance”, was nominated for an NAACP Image Award for Best Poetry and won the Lambda Literary Award and the PEN Center USA Award.

Carl Phillips has also published works of criticism; two collections of essays puvlished by Graywolf Press include the 2004 “Coin of the Realm”Essays on the Life and Art of Poetry” and the 2014 “The Art of Daring: Risk, Restlessness, Imagination”. 

Carl Phillips previously taught Latin in public schools for eight years before becoming Professor of English at St. Louis’s Washington University, where he also teaches creative writing. He was elected a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2006 and has served as the judge for the Yale Series of Younger Poets since 2011. Phillips received an Award in Literature form the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Academy of American Poets Prize and a Pushcart Prize. 

Note: Carl Phillip’s 1995 poem, “Cortège”, was actually my first choice for the poem to be included with his biography; however, the poem in its full form was too lengthy for this posting. For those interested in reading this poem, I offer this link: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/47856/cortege-56d228a1cf7ae

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