Carl Phillips

Carl PhillipsAnd Across Our Faces (Aureole Press, 2015)

What’s your chapbook about?

I don’t know that it has a real theme – something to do with two people navigating a relationship with each other, with themselves, and with the landscape.

If you have written more than one chapbook, could you describe each of them in chronological order?

I’ve never really written a chapbook – I have a total of three chapbooks, and the first one was a selection of poems from across all my books, the poems selected by a person in Berlin who does a series of selected poems of authors he’s interested in. The second chapbook was put together when I was being honored with the Kenyon Award for Literary Achievement – David Baker made a selection of my poems, and arranged them, then it was all made into a lovely chapbook.

What’s the oldest piece in your chapbook? Or can you name one poem that catalyzed or inspired the rest of the chapbook? What do you remember about writing it?

It might be easier for me to talk about how this chapbook came together. When I gave a reading at the University of Toledo, I met a fellow, Tim Geiger, who runs a letterpress at the university, among other things. He asked if I’d be willing to have him make a chapbook from a collection of my poems. We ended up deciding to have the whole chapbook consist of just five poems, interspersed with artwork. So when it came to choosing the poems, I wanted to have a mix of never-published-before poems and poems that had appeared in a journal but not a book yet. And then it was just a matter of arranging the five. They all come from the same period of writing, in the last year or so.

To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your chapbook?

It was more that Tim had some images in mind, and we agreed he’d show them to me. As it turned out, he didn’t like the original idea he had – I believe the designs were silhouettes of some kind – but he found some images of sea kelp, magnified, so they look more like trees…he showed them to me, and I loved them.

What are you working on now?

I’m always just working on the next poem. I don’t think in terms of books.

What was the last book you read that made you stop reading, just for a moment even, because you didn’t want it to be over?

A View of the Harbor by Elizabeth Taylor (not the actress).

Without stopping to think, who are ten poets whose work you would tattoo on your body, or at least your clothing, to take with you at all times?

Shakespeare, Dickinson, Hopkins, Randall Jarrell, Robert Hayden, Sappho, Louise Bogan, Frank O’Hara, James Schuyler, Plath

If you could choose another artistic path (painting, music, dance, etc.) what would it be and why?

Singing in an indie rock band. I’m most influenced by music as a writer – I love singing, I love lyrics, it seems it would be a good match for me.

How has your writing and writing practiced evolved? What old habits have you dropped and are there any new ones you’ve picked up that you’d like to share?

I think the main habit I have dropped is that of writing every Sunday. I find my life and schedule make it necessary for me to write when I can, rather than scheduling a specific time or day. I’m less able to sit down and say it’s now time to write – if anything, that inhibits things.

What’s the title for a book you haven’t written yet?

I never know the title of a book until after I’ve written it – often quite a long time after I’ve written it.

What themes and images “bridge” your work? Have you found that composing a chapbook alleviates these inclinations, or amplifies them?

I think I’ve always written about the body, morality – the question of what morality might be – desire… I think those themes bridge the work, the main difference being that the same themes get examined in the ever shifting context of age….

What kinds of writing (comics, dictionaries, magazines, novels, etc.) that aren’t poetry help you to write poetry?

Pretty much all kinds – I read a lot of novels, also a lot of graphic novels. I often stumble upon a word or phrase that way, that I wouldn’t have thought to employ in one of my own pieces. Also, the different genres help me to look at the same subjects differently. The other main kind of writing that’s helpful is songwriting – I spend a lot of time learning new lyrics, revisiting the lyrics of older songs, jazz standards, old pop, whatever. I feel it’s important to be living in language as much as possible – and there’s so much language out there besides poetry.

***

Carl Phillips is the author of thirteen books of poetry, most recently Reconnaissance (FSG, 2015). He’s also written critical prose: Coin of the Realm: Essays on the Life and Art of Poetry (Graywolf, 2004) and The Art of Daring: Risk, Restlessness, Imagination (Graywolf, 2014); and has translated Sophocles’s Philoctetes (Oxford, 2004). He teaches at Washington University in St. Louis.

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