From Publishers Weekly
Lingering at the junctures of desire and attainment, Phillips's sixth collection demonstrates how the largest questions of ethics and responsibility play out, or perhaps disappear, in the smallest moments of intimate relationships, and find death as their limit. The extremely attenuated lines of last year's The Tether have filled out here, but Phillips' trademark phrasal difficulty and oblique half-metaphors remain as beautiful and perplexing as ever, as in the following staggered simile cum Yeatsian inquiry: "Like so many birds that, given the chance not to fly for once in formation, won't take it, or cannot, or or but what kind of choice can a bird know?" This collection features fewer hawks, stags and hounds; the classical imagery remains but has been tempered to a more fanciful and personalized vocabulary. Most interested in the pause between doing and having done, between saying or writing and the moment after, Philips writes poems as prayers, his speaker praying that his words will bear some effect. At the edge of his mind, the poet knows "right and wrong take in each other no apparent interest," but he retains his belief in redemption if only momentarily attained through conversation or sex: "the two of us regarding equally but differently the sea." Erotic prayers and tortured love poems, mythic games and devotional memory, are twinned in this liminal universe, balanced upon "the body folding, and unfolding as if map, then shroud."
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
The author of five previous collections (e.g., The Tether), Phillips is a Harvard-educated classicist whose poems are subtly informed by both gay and African American sensibilities. Here he approaches the high, airy abstraction characteristic of Jorie Graham's recent work, compressing elliptical meditations into lyric forms that sometimes seem built entirely of rhetorical gestures: interjections, postponements, qualifications, questions, and hyperextended figures ("the dog restless, wanting/ out, like a dream of the body caught/ shining inside a struggling whose/ end it cannot know will be/ no good one"). Reinforcing his contention that "distinctions matter," Phillips defines by cautious approximation and analogy: "The air,/ for example, heavy,// less with blooming than with/ the thought of." Though sophisticated and hieratic some might say precious in conception, these poems seem halting and fragmented in execution, risking inertia before they (or the reader) have barely divined their elusive subjects. For academic libraries with large poetry collections. Fred Muratori, Cornell Univ. Lib., Ithaca, NY
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.