Pale Colors in a Tall Field

Carl Phillips. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $23 (64p) ISBN 978-0-374-22905-4
The rich, ruminative 14th book from Phillips (Silverchest) begins midconversation: “—By fire, then, but within view of a rough sea?” it asks as though imagining how someone would like to die. It ends with an affirmation of spring in “Defiance”: “For by then all the lilies on the pond had opened.” These poems, which are filled with longing and a sense of the poet wrestling with himself, are made up of reflections that frequently run over 10 or so of Phillips’s signature long lines. He frequently alludes to water (the sea, a lake, waves, swimming) and juxtaposes memory and the body in resonant ways. His observations spring from probing mundane images (“say of the sea/ what you will, it’s the shore that endures the routine loss”) or by creating startling juxtapositions (“Like taking/ a horsewhip to a swarm of bees, that they might/ more easily disperse”). “My trade is mystery” he notes in “The Same in Sun as It Felt in Shadow”: “how/ all the more powerful parts to a life—as to art,/ as well, when it’s worth remembering—/ resist translation.” While Phillips is enigmatic in these poems, he is never coy, conjuring a rich intellectual and felt life on the page for the reader. (Mar.)
Reviewed on : 12/12/2019
Release date: 03/03/2020
Genre: Poetry
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