Rock Harbor: Poems

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Overview

A masterful new collection by one of our most important contemporary lyric poets.

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"

Carl Phillips's lyric explorations of longing and devotion, castigation and mercy, are unrivaled in contemporary poetry.

Here, in his sixth book, Phillips visits those spaces, both physical and psychological, where risk and safety coincide, and considers what it might mean to live at the nexus of the two. Sifting among the upturned evidence of crisis, from Roman Empire to westward expansion, from the turn of a lover's face to the harbor of the book's title — a place of calm fashioned of the very rock that can mean disaster — these poems negotiate and map out the impulse toward rescue and away from it. Phillips's pooling, cascading lines are the unsuppressed routes across his unique poetic landscape, daring and seductive in their readiness to drift and reverse as the terrain demands.

Carl Phillips is the author of five other books of poems, including The Tether (FSG, 2001) and From the Devotions, which was a finalist for the National Book Award and the recipient of a 2001 Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature.

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Editorial Reviews

The New Yorker
Phillips's previous volume of poetry explored the often antagonistic negotiations between the devout and the divine, the lover and the loved. "Rock Harbor" is harder and more forceful: "No" and "not" are two of the poet's favorite end words. But in these poems, which are at least as erotic as they are religious, "no" often means "yes," and the succumbing is of a bittersweet, little-death sort. In one poem, Phillips asks, "Isn't it only in / the bracing and first wake of / loss that we guess most cleanly / the speed with which what held us / left us?" The pull that Phillips is resisting grows stronger all the time, and when it recedes it leaves a residue: the "record-of-where-a-wind-was" to be examined by "left-to-our-own-devices / acolytes."
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." . Forecast: Coming off the success of The Tether, which won the $100,000 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award for 2002, Phillips is at a seemingly indomitable stretch of his career; this second collection with FSG will only make his star shine the brighter. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
In poetry, as in music, the silences are as significant as the sounds-something ably proved by Phillips's verse. These poems breathe a little more freely than those in The Tether, published last year, but they're still deeply compressed bits of beauty-and thought-provoking, too. (LJ 7/02) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
From the Publisher
A masterly collection from "one of his generation's most prolific and gifted poets." —Rick Hilles, Boston Review
Boston Review Rick Hilles

A masterly collection from "one of his generation's most prolific and gifted poets."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780374251406
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 9/1/2002
  • Edition description: 1ST
  • Pages: 128
  • Product dimensions: 4.26 (w) x 10.62 (h) x 0.73 (d)

Meet the Author

Carl Phillips is the author of seven books of poems, most recently Rock Harbor; The Tether, winner of the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award; and From the Devotions, a finalist for the National Book Award, and the recipient of an American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature in 2001. He teaches at Washington University in St. Louis.

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Read an Excerpt

Rock Harbor


By CARL PHILLIPS

FARRAR, STRAUS AND GIROUX

Copyright © 2002 Carl Phillips
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0374251401


Chapter One

GOLDEN There, behind the raised and extended wing to which no bird no fiend no haloing is attached: two bodies, fucking. It is difficult to see, but that much- from the way, with great then greater effort, their mouths seem half to recall or want to a song even older, holier than the one they fill with-I can guess. The rest, I know: that it's dream; that, in dream, to know a thing is to have a gift and not to, especially. Like refusing to prove what anyway all scrutable signs point to. Stopped trees are the least of it, the still standing but decidedly aslant version of unanimous, what looks at first like approbation; then-like trees, and how a wind will pass through. To turn with and not against it no more means the wind is with us than the gods are. I don't believe each gets what each deserves. QUARTER-VIEW, FROM NAUSET Love, etc. Have been remembering the part in Sophocles where a god advises the two heroes they should be as twin lions, feeding-how even the flesh of late slaughter does not distract them from keeping each over the other a guarding eye. What part of this is love, and what survival is never said, though the difference it makes is at least that between a lily and, say, a shield. I think of you often, especially here, at the edge of the world or a part of it, anyway, bywhich I mean of course more, you will have guessed, than the coast, just now, I stand on. Against it, the water dashes with the violence of two men who, having stripped it, now take for their own the body of a third man on the bad sofa of an even worse motel room in what eventually is movie-one we've seen ... The way what looks like rape might not be. You'd like the light here. At times, a color you'd call anything but blue. INTERLUDE Briefly, an ease akin to those parts of the air that allow the bird respite from the effort of muscle flight entails. As I said: briefly. It does not matter, I, understand now, my having hoped in no way to resemble anyone- this, the reason why the difficulty, I have often been sure, with death will be less the dying than the having been finally always like everyone else; that particular humiliation: to admit as much. Very briefly, it seems now. In the manner of happiness or an only-half-grounded fear or whatever else can at once be both pressing and ignorable, until-as when the evidence has grown embarrassing, so why shouldn't we, let us throw it away-until it is like that and, soon, it is that. We'll assume again our new positions: myself, at last arcing the body over.-Up. Into yours. MOVING TARGET If to be patient were less an exercise and more a name to be worn, say, in the middle- that he might wear it- Of the linen sash to his robe, of linen, that his hands have fashioned a knot such that the knot suggests now a dragonfly in flight from what is harmless and not, entirely- that he might, if at all, know this only as when without understanding it we know we have and have come to expect we shall have always upon others an effect we do not intend- His face: a face, turning. And then a turned one.



Excerpted from Rock Harbor by CARL PHILLIPS Copyright © 2002 by Carl Phillips
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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Table of Contents

Golden 3
Quarter-view, from Nauset 5
Interlude 7
Moving Target 10
Corral 12
As a Blow, from the West 15
The Clearing 20
The Deposition 23
By Hard Stages 29
The Clarity 33
Loose Hinge 35
The Threshing 38
The Silver Age 42
To Break, to Ride 45
Entry 48
Blue Shoulder 55
Spoken Part, for Countertenor Voice 57
Rock Harbor 59
Trade 65
To the Tune of a Small, Repeatable, and Passing Kindness 67
Cavalry 69
To Speak of It Now 72
Those Parts That Rescue Looked Like 75
Via Sacra 78
The Use of Force 81
Return to the Land of the Golden Apples 87
Flight 90
Fretwork 92
Ravage 94
Canoe 96
Justice 99
Minotaur 102
Halo 105
Acknowledgments 109
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