cover image Wild Is the Wind

Wild Is the Wind

Carl Phillips. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $23 (80p) ISBN 978-0-374-29026-9

Phillips (Reconnaissance) hazards a visit to an emotional territory reminiscent of Dickinson’s “wild nights” in his 14th collection, in which he faces the unavoidable question: “Don’t you want to find happiness?” These 35 poems are as haunting and contemplative as the torch song for which the collection is named, and the work coheres through images of the sea and navigation, compasses and charts. The possibility of love is a risk taken under the “bright points of a constellation missed earlier,/ and just now seen clearly: pain; indifference;/ torn trust; permission.” The explorer must to “say no to despair.” The nautical conceit merges seamlessly with Phillips’s more familiar metaphorical terrain of earth and sky (“leaves swam the air”). He startles readers afresh with his talent for transcendent metaphor leavened by rueful humor—“The oars of the ship called Late Forgiveness lift,/ then fall. The slaves at the oars/ have done singing—it’s pure work, now”—and displays a well-honed ability to draw on varied literary sources in a register that’s both academic and vernacular. As ever in his work, emotional dynamics resist easy resolution and the speakers unsparingly evaluate both the self and exterior world. Skillfully balancing philosophical discourse and linguistic pleasure, Phillips’s much-admired capacity for nimble syntax unfurls like a sail, “each time, more surely.” (Jan.)