Campus Authors: Carl Phillips

*The Rest of Love: Poems*

Carl Phillips, professor of English and of African and Afro-American Studies, both in Arts & Sciences

(Farrar Straus & Giroux; 2004)

With his seventh volume of poetry recently published, Carl Phillips views The Rest of Love: Poems as a continuation of his last two collections, (2001) and Rock Harbor (2002).

Written partly in St. Louis and partly in Cape Cod, Mass., in 2002, The Rest of Love: Poems continues wrestling with the notion of how humans prefer the concrete, but that this preference is useless in the face of such abstractions as desire, belief and fidelity.

The Rest of Love is more brutal, maybe, more determined to face what, for me, seems a truth — that there are limits to what can be done about love in particular,” Phillips said, “that we are striving for an ideal that we already know we’re doomed never to be able to attain. At best, we can try to reconcile ourselves to our strange fate. Some lines from the poem ‘Fray’ maybe sum it up:

….I could love you
as I had loved you — as only
humans can love each other: it’s

a human need,
to give to shapelessness
a form.

“By ‘shapelessness’, I mean everything from our individual lives to those of others whom we want to conduct a life with, to such things (whether they exist or not) as the soul. ”

If this sounds more involved than your usual light reading, that’s because it is. When Phillips reads poetry, he wants to be made to see something in a way he never had before. He wants to be surprised by language. He wants to think.

It’s no surprise, then, that the same thought process carries over to his own writing.

” I believe that language can be made to carry much more weight, and to do more work, than most of us ask of it in daily speech,” he said. “For me, poetry isn’t daily speech, but the chance to invest language with power.

“But that means weighing each word as it goes onto the page, and it means that sentence-making is a difficult and responsibility-filled business. Hence, my poems’ tendency to move carefully, pausing a great deal, leaning on individual words in order to see them from several sides.”

Andy Clendennen

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