cover image Silverchest


Carl Phillips. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $23 (80p) ISBN 978-0-374-26121-4

In Phillips’ 12th collection, as in previous collections, form pushes the writing’s nimble logic, with ruminations on desire and risk deploying Phillips’ trademark, kinesthetic syntax. But these poems reach an unprecedented vulnerability through conversations with the past—“About nostalgia, I am/ still against it”—as through a thematic effort to reveal the link between desire and power: “Nothing in this world/ like being held, he says, turning away, meaning// I should hold him…I have been to Rome,/ I have known the body, I have watched it fall.” Phillips interrogates causality and memory, exposing language as both an agent and a currency: “…I love you means, what exactly?” and “Is it days, really, or only moments ago/ that I almost told you everything,/ before remembering what that leads/ or has led to?” These hesitations are not merely rhetorical gestures; rather, doubt proves the only path to reliably exhuming the former self: “Funny how/ sorrow more often arrives before honesty, than/ the other way round. To my left, a blackness// like the past, but without the past’s precision.” In these gorgeous, meticulously constructed lyric poems, nature and music—motifs Phillips returns to often—take on the role of correlatives, evoking the mind’s own cadence, its certainty and thaw. (Apr.)