Poet Carl Phillips Talks Risk

January 16, 2015 10:18 PM

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In August of last year Graywolf Press released the tenth volume in their acclaimed "Art of" series, this time authored by poet and four-time National Book Award finalist Carl Phillips. While past offerings in the series have concerned syntax, subtext and description, Phillips chose to train his own study on daring -- on the page and elsewhere -- in this latest collection of essays titled: The Art of Daring: Risk, Restlessness, Imagination. The insights -- and questions they birth -- in Phillips' newest book extend far beyond the craft of poetry and serve well to illuminate the intrepid spirit, sexuality and moral philosophy that seem to have informed much of the poet's life and intellect. Characteristically eloquent and honest, Phillips' essays explore notions of desire, suicide and guilt through the lens of poems by Randall Jarrell, Deborah Digges and Thom Gunn, in addition to personal experiences that include witnessing the sexual domination (consensual) of a young man in a forest clearing, and an experiment in sadomasochism conducted with a stranger in a seedy St. Louis apartment building. Phillips' chronicles the latter episode in vivid and fearless detail, practicing the very literary daring his book seems to espouse. That Phillips is willing to do so comes as little surprise -- his work has always been about risk, and openness. Deploying an inimitable syntax to achieve lithe, interrogatory cadences, Phillips' poetry has long ushered readers through harrowing ethical ground beginning with his first book, In the Blood, written near the end of an eight-year heterosexual marriage prior to his revealing he was gay. For its intelligence, candor and sheer beauty Phillips' writing remains among the best being done today. I was fortunate enough to speak in depth with him recently, not so much about poetry, but about life and living. The first three questions from our discussion can be read below. The interview can be read and listened to in its entirety on Fogged Clarity's newly redesigned website here.

Ben Evans: I think, your own sense of restlessness, your need for meaning, is a palpable driver of this entire collection, as it should be, given the subject matter. And part of that unrest appears to emerge from a desire or need to justify moral relativism. I wonder if this is accurate, and what yo...

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