From Publishers Weekly
"When I think of desire,/ it is in the same way that I do// God: as parable, any steep/ and blue water, things that are always/ there, they only wait// to be sounded." The lyric sounding of human feeling against desire, the natural world and religious striving has been reenvisioned by Phillips over three books, including last year's NBA-finalist From the Devotions. In this brilliant fourth collection, foreboding fields and roaming creatures ("mouths gaped not/ in song but for those night-flying// insects that now, but too early, too/ readily, ascend") continue to echo the sorrow, alienation and eros of bodily existence. The fragmented diction and structure in poems such as "Unbeautiful" are contrasted by the dazzling "Hymn," written in the poet's classically slim tercets and singing to "...one more of many other nights/ figured with the inevitably/ black car, again the stranger's// strange room entered not for prayer/ but for striking prayer's attitude, the body// kneeling, bending, until it finds/ the muscled pattern that predictably, given strain and// release, flesh assumes." At the collection's center is the five-part lyric sequence "And Fitful Memories of Pan," in which Phillips's tireless attention to the body finds the god's hands are "shaped by damage, fitted/ for it." The collection's last poem, "The Kill," ends with the speaker-as-hunter: "one animal at attack,/ the other--the other one/ suffering, and love would// out all suffering." This cautiously hopeful note suggests less a reconciliation than a giving over of the self to encounter, one where the poet's various concerns come together beautifully. (Jan.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Kirkus Reviews
The author of three previous collections, Phillips (Washington Univ.) has received prizes and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the Library of Congress. He was among the finalists for the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. Its tempting to make the comparison between his work and that of the so-called metaphysical poets, such as John Donne, because Phillips draws deeply from the traditions of mysticism and eroticismor at least sensualitywhich inform the metaphysicists worldview. But there the similarity begins and ends. The poems here are formed of more jagged and elemental observations than those to which Donnes refined metalogic gave careful shape. These seem more haphazard, more an amalgam of like fragments, less cohesive than adhesive. Their rhythms are staccato, hesitant, reinforcing the impression of intense flashes stitched together, of stanzas that veer on their predecessors tangents rather than guiding to the conclusion of an argument crafted line by line. And, whereas Donne joined his lovers mystically through the agent of the flea that mingles their blood, Phillips suggests spiritual intimacy through the image of pairs of lips that meet at different times on the rim of a drinking glass. Yet he does prove himself capable of more than merely casual insights into the human condition. Hes honest in his approach, admitting our essential frailty in wanting to outwit our fates, because he realizes that giving up the illusion would require us to also give up hope. At times the verses are tender and sensual, almost languid in their pacing, but at others its as if we're tuned to the poets staticky mental radio while bouncing down a logging road. -- Copyright ©2000, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.