Carl Phillips

​Professor of English
Pronouns: he/him/his
research interests:
  • Poetry Writing
  • African-American Literature
  • Twentieth-Century Poetry
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    contact info:

    mailing address:

    • Washington University
    • CB 1122
    • One Brookings Drive
    • St. Louis, MO 63130-4899
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    ​Professor Phillips is the highly acclaimed author of 13 collections of poetry.

    A finalist for both the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award, Phillips' other honors include the Lambda Literary Award, an Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Theodore Roethke Memorial Foundation Poetry Award, the Thom Gunn Award for Gay Male Poetry, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Library of Congress, and the Academy of American Poets, for which he served as Chancellor from 2006-2012.  

    Phillips' first book, In the Blood, won the 1992 Samuel French Morse Poetry Prize and was heralded as the work of an outstanding newcomer in the field of contemporary poetry. In addition to contemporary poetry and the writing of it, his academic interests include classical philology, translation, and the history of prosody in English.

    Carl Phillips is the author of 14 books of poetry, most recently Wild Is the Wind (FSG, 2018). Other books include The Tether, winner of the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award, and Double Shadow, winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.  His prose books are The Art of Daring: Risk, Restlessness, Imagination (2014) and Coin of the Realm: Essays on the Life and Art of Poetry (2004), and he has translated Sophocles’s Philoctetes (2004).  A finalist for both the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award, his other honors include the Lambda Literary Award, an Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Theodore Roethke Memorial Foundation Poetry Award, the Thom Gunn Award for Gay Male Poetry, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Library of Congress, and the Academy of American Poets, for which he served as Chancellor from 2006-2012.  In addition to contemporary poetry and the writing of it, his academic interests include classical philology, translation, and the history of prosody in English.

    Writing Sample

    Foliage

    Cage inside a cage inside a whispering so deep that
    – And then just the two of us.  And you calling it
    vulnerability.  And me calling it rumor passing
    through suspicion’s fingers – ashweed, flickering
    halo of the boy I might really have been once, tiger
    lilies beneath a storm blowing into then out of
    character, then back again, as if seasonal, summer
    now, now fall.  But I know suspicion has no fingers.
    Vulnerability’s just part of the trash that rumor leaves
    behind.  Wait it out long enough, the trash shifts, it
    always does, in that way it’s like memory lately –
    I’m the fist of instinct, cool, unstoppable, you’re
    the dogwood’s crucifix-laden branches, I’m the fist
    through the branches, you’re the fist, I’m the branches…

    From Carl Phillips, Reconnaissance (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2015)

    This poem first appeared in Little Star

    Courses

    • L13 541: Craft of Poetry
    • L13 522: Poetry Workshop
    Pale Colors in a Tall Field

    Pale Colors in a Tall Field

    Carl Phillips’s new poetry collection, Pale Colors in a Tall Field, is a meditation on the intimacies of thought and body as forms of resistance. The poems are both timeless and timely, asking how we can ever truly know ourselves in the face of our own remembering and inevitable forgetting. Here, the poems metaphorically argue that memory is made up of various colors, with those most prominent moments in a life seeming more vivid, though the paler colors are never truly forgotten. The poems in Pale Colors in a Tall Field approach their points of view kaleidoscopically, enacting the self’s multiplicity and the difficult shifts required as our lives, in turn, shift. This is one of Phillips’s most tender, dynamic, and startling books yet.

    The Tether: Poems

    The Tether: Poems

    As I understand it, I could
    call him. Though it would help,
    it is not required that I give him
    a name first. Also, nothing
    says he stops, then, or must turn.
    --from "The Figure, the Boundary, the Light"

    The Rest of Love: Poems

    The Rest of Love: Poems

    The light, for as far as
    I can see, is that of any number of late

    afternoons I remember still: how the light
    seemed a bell; how it seemed I'd been living
    insider it, waiting - I'd heard all about

    that one clear note it gives. 
    --from "Late Apollo III"

    Speak Low: Poems

    Speak Low: Poems

    Speak Low is the tenth book from one of America’s most distinctive—and one of poetry’s most essential—contemporary voices. Phillips has long been hailed for work provocative in its candor, uncompromising in its inquiry, and at once rigorous and innovative in its attention to craft. Over the course of nine critically acclaimed collections, he has generated a sustained meditation on the restless and ever-shifting myth of human identity. Desire and loss, mastery and subjugation, belief and doubt, sex, animal instinct, human reason: these are among the lenses through which Phillips examines what it means to be that most bewildering, irresolvable conundrum, a human being in the world.

    Silverchest: Poems

    Silverchest: Poems

    In Silverchest, his twelfth book, Carl Phillips considers how our fears and excesses, the damage we cause both to others and to ourselves, intentional and not, can lead not only to a kind of wisdom but also to renewal, maybe even joy, if we're willing to commit fully to a life in which "I love you / means what, exactly?" In poems shot through with his signature mix of eros, restless energy, and moral scrutiny, Phillips argues for the particular courage it takes to look at the self squarely―not with judgment but with understanding―and extend that self more honestly toward others. It's a risk, there's a lot to lose, but if it's true that "we'll drown anyway―why not / in color?"

    Rock Harbor: Poems

    Rock Harbor: Poems

    Wind as a face gone red with blowing,
    oceans whose end is broken stitchery--

    swim of sea-dragon, dolphin,
    shimmer-and-coil, invitation. . . . You Know
    the kind of map I mean. Countries as

    distant as they are believable . . .

    --from "Halo"

    Riding Westward: Poems

    Riding Westward: Poems

    What happens when the world as we've known it becomes divided, when the mind becomes less able―or less willing―to distinguish reality from what is desired? In Riding Westward, Carl Phillips wields his celebrated gifts for syntax and imagery that are unmistakably his own―speculative, athletic, immediate―as he confronts moral crisis. What is the difference, he asks, between good and evil, cruelty and instruction, risk and trust? Against the backdrop of the natural world, Phillips pitches the restlessness of what it means to be human, as he at once deepens and extends a meditation on that space where the forces of will and imagination collide with sexual and moral conduct.

    Quiver of Arrows: Selected Poems, 1986-2006

    Quiver of Arrows: Selected Poems, 1986-2006

    Quiver of Arrows is a generous gathering from Carl Phillips's work that showcases the twenty-year evolution of one of America's most distinctive―and one of poetry's most essential―contemporary voices. Hailed from the beginning of his career for a poetry provocative in its candor, uncompromising in its inquiry, and at once rigorous and innovative in its attention to craft, Phillips has in the course of eight critically acclaimed collections generated a sustained meditation on the restless and ever-shifting myth of human identity. Desire and loss, mastery and subjugation, belief and doubt, sex, animal instinct, human reason: these are among the lenses through which Phillips examines what it means to be that most bewildering, irresolvable conundrum, a human being in the world.

    Poetry, Love, and Mercy

    Poetry, Love, and Mercy

    The Judith Lee Stronach Memorial Lectures on the Teaching of Poetry was established in 2003 in memory of a poet and an inspired teacher of poetry to children and to the underprivileged. She is also remembered for her generosity in support of actions, world wide, to safeguard and to further Human Rights. This series of lectures on teaching poetry by distinguished poets was conceived of by her family as a contribution to the role poetry plays at Berkeley in occasions that bring the public and academic communities together.

    Pastoral: Poems

    Pastoral: Poems

    Carl Phillips is the author of nine previous books of poems, including Quiver of Arrows: Selected Poems, 1986-2006; Riding Westward; and The Rest of Love, a National Book Award finalist. He teaches at Washington University in St. Louis.

    In The Blood

    In The Blood

    Winner of the Samuel French Morse Poetry Prize (1992)

    From the Devotions: Poems

    From the Devotions: Poems

    With From the Devotions, Carl Phillips takes us even further into that dangerous space he has already made his own, where body and soul--ever restless--come explosively together. Speaking to a balance between decorum and pain, he offers here a devotional poetry that argues for faith, even without the comforting gods or the organized structures of revealed truth. Neither sage nor saint nor prophet, the poet is the listener, the mourner, the one who has some access to the maddening quarters of human consciousness, the wry Sibyl. From the Devotions is deeply felt, highly intelligent, and unsentimental, and cements Phillips's reputation as a poet of enormous talent and depth.

    Double Shadow: Poems

    Double Shadow: Poems

    A stunning new collection of poems from the author of Speak Low

    Comparing any human life to "a restless choir" of impulses variously in conflict and at peace with one another, Carl Phillips, in his eleventh book, examines the double shadow that a life casts forth: "now risk, and now / faintheartedness." In poems that both embody and inhabit this double shadow, risk and faintheartedness prove to have the power equally to rescue us from ourselves and to destroy us. Spare, haunted, and haunting, yet not without hope, Double Shadow argues for life as a wilderness through which there's only the questing forward―with no regrets and no looking back.

    Cortège: Poems

    Cortège: Poems

    Carl Phillips is the author of nine previous books of poems, including "Quiver of Arrows: Selected Poems, 1986-2006";" Riding Westward"; and "The Rest of Love," a National Book Award finalist. He teaches at Washington University in St. Louis. This is the second collection of poems by Carl Phillips, whose first book, "In the Blood," won the 1992 Morse Poetry Prize. As "The Boston Book Review" observed, "Cortege" is the work of "an erotic poet, one who follows his sexuality into surprising territory . . . The contemporary scene is fully present [throughout this book], with all its new and old terrors--AIDS, loneliness--but Phillips's richness of mind is such that he often encounters in this life the artifacts of a couple of millennia of art and mythology. Which is not to say these poems have an academic flavor--far from it. The vision is contemporary, the language ours . . . What makes these poems such a coherent whole, in addition to their open sensuality, is the awareness they contain of the inescapable sadness of beauty . . . This is a poet of tact and delicacy, with an understated approach to even potentially explosive subjects."

    Coin of the Realm: Essays on the Life and Art of Poetry

    Coin of the Realm: Essays on the Life and Art of Poetry

    The "coin of the realm" is, classically, the currency that for any culture most holds value. In art, as in life, the poet Carl Phillips argues, that currency includes beauty, risk, and authority-values of meaning and complexity that all too often go disregarded. Together, these essays become an invaluable statement for the necessary-and necessarily difficult-work of the imagination and the will, even when, as Phillips states in his title essay, "the last thing that most human beings seem capable of trusting naturally-instinctively-is themselves, their own judgment."