Poet Carl Phillips is finalist for National Book Award

Poet Carl Phillips, professor of English and of African and Afro-American Studies, both in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, has been selected — for the second time in a relatively short literary career — as a finalist for the 2004 National Book Award in poetry.

Carl Phillips
Carl Phillips

Phillips was nominated for his seventh collection of poetry, “The Rest of Love: Poems,” published in February by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Phillips said the poems in this collection explore the physical, emotional and spiritual myths that people both create and destroy in the name of desire.

The highly acclaimed poet also was a National Book Award finalist in 1998 for his third collection, “From the Devotions,” published by Graywolf Press. The National Book Awards are considered one of the most prestigious prizes in American literature.

Upon learning of his second nomination, Phillips said he was surprised and honored.

“At some level, it means that my work is not only being read, but is also being deemed worthy of particular attention,” he said.

“But I also know that there are many deserving, excellent poets at work, and that not everyone has the good fortune to have their work recognized,” he continued. “The nomination reminds me — not that I’d forgotten! — to be grateful. I’m grateful each time I can write a poem.”

Just four days before receiving a phone call with news of his nomination, Phillips was recognized for yet another prestigious honor: his induction Oct. 9 into the American Academy of Arts & Sciences.

Phillips, 45, who wrote poetry as a teen, then stopped for some 10 years after earning his bachelor’s degree, only began publishing his poetry when he was in his early 30s.

His first book, “In the Blood,” won the 1992 Samuel French Morse Poetry Prize and was heralded as the work of an outstanding newcomer in the field of contemporary poetry.

His other books are “Cortege” (1995), a finalist for both the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Lambda Literary Award in Poetry; “Pastoral” (2000), winner of the Lambda Literary Award; “The Tether” (2001), winner of the prestigious Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award; and “Rock Harbor” (2002).

In addition to “The Rest of Love,” Phillips had two titles published in the 2003-04 academic year: a translation of Sophocles’ “Philoctetes” and a book of essays, “Coin of the Realm: Essays on the Life and Art of Poetry.”

Phillips also is the recipient of, among others, a literature award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Witter Bynner Foundation Fellowship from the Library of Congress, two Pushcart Prizes and the Academy of American Poets Prize.

His poems, essays and translations have appeared in such journals as The Nation, The Paris Review and The Yale Review, as well as in anthologies, including “Best American Poetry,” “The Best of the Best American Poetry 1989-1998” and “The New Bread Loaf Anthology of Contemporary American Poets.”

Phillips earned a bachelor’s degree, magna cum laude, in Greek and Latin in 1981 from Harvard University, a master’s degree in Latin and classical humanities in 1983 from the University of Massachusetts and a master’s degree in creative writing in 1993 from Boston University.

He arrived at Washington University in 1993 for a joint appointment in English and in African and Afro-American Studies. He directed the university’s Creative Writing Program from 1996-98 and 2000-02.

Garrison Keillor, writer, humorist and host of NPR’s “A Prairie Home Companion,” announced the National Book Award finalists Oct. 13 in St. Paul, Minn.

Keillor will host the Nov. 17 awards dinner and ceremony in New York, where the winners will be announced.

Phillips will attend the ceremony as well as participate in a finalists’ reading the night before at The New School, an academic division of New School University. This year’s 20 finalists were selected from a record 1,074 entries.

Editor’s note: Phillips is a resident of St. Louis, Mo. (63108).