The Tether: Poems


Graceful and resonant new work by a lyric poet at the height of his skill.

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"

In the art of falconry, during...

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The Tether: Poems

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Graceful and resonant new work by a lyric poet at the height of his skill.

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"

In the art of falconry, during training the tether between the gloved fist and the raptor's anklets is gradually lengthened and eventually unnecessary. In these new lyric poems, Carl Phillips considers the substance of connection -- between lover and beloved, mind and body, talon and perch -- and ts the cable of mutual trust between soaring figure and shadowed ground.

Contemporary literature can perhaps claim no poetry more clearly allegorical than that of Carl Phillips, whose four collections have turned frequently to nature, myth, and history for illustration; still, readers know the primary attributes of his work to be its physicality, grace, and disarming honesty about desire and faith. In The Tether, his fifth book, Phillips's characteristically cascading poetic line is leaner and more dramatic than ever."

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
With his signature clausal intricacies and forbiddingly terse tercets intact, Phillips makes the jump after four books with Graywolf to FSG. Yet where books like Cort ge (1995) and From the Devotions (1998) were fraught attempts finding a language to control highly charged, even mortally erotic circumstance, last year's Pastoral, while still saturated with difficult longing, hinted at the possibility of d tente. The grudging pleasures and negotiations of leashed life are the main subjects of this fifth collection, which looks back to previous work and, for the first time, forward to the beloved's continued presence: "There was, one time, a stag / And now there isn't,// is there?/ And no, he won't come,/ ever, back. This is the widening, but// not unbeautiful wake of his having/ left us." While the hunt, a recurrent Phillips motif, continues here, and "carnage's/ bright details" (i.e., cheating) are suitably hung up, they are more instinctual relapse than planned pursuit, and are dealt with accordingly. The book's last poem, "Revision," shifts from intentionally unstable tercets to firmly decisive couplets, mirroring the speaker's aware-of-the-stakes commitment: "I recognize you / and the recognizing has the effect of/ slowing down that// part of me that would/ walk past, or as if away toward// another ending You/ speak first. And I'll answer." (Apr.) Forecast: Along with Henri Cole, Phillips some of the most formally accomplished first-person poems of male desire and relationships of his generation worthy of immediate generational predecessors Gunn and Bidart. This book should bring Phillips deserved mid-career accolades, and pave the way for a new and selected volume. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
This latest from Phillips (Pastoral) is aptly named, for the poems all explore connection: the connection of lover and loved, of body and soul, of observer and observed, even of moments in time ("How did I get here,/ we ask one day"). We feel the connection implicitly in the tightly constructed lines, which pulse with restrained energy, with what is left unsaid (these pieces are finely honed). Starker and a bit darker than Phillips's previous work, these poems are intellectually challenging, requiring (and certainly meriting) many readings. Occasionally, the intensive punctuation irritates, causing odd halts that leave one begging to breathe. But these elliptical, ruminative works are worth the effort. Barbara Hoffert, "Library Journal" Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Phillips's fifth collection is a difficult one of lean, stubbornly metaphysical lyrics. The poems are difficult because they seem to arise out of nothing, and then do their best to stay there, hovering over their own abyss. The most immediately striking aspect of his new poems is the line, at once flexible and choppy, its syntax full of dips, stutters, and curlicued qualifications: "It is for, you see, eventually the deer to / take it, the fruit / hangs there." It is typical of Phillips to withhold the sentence's subject to the last, whipping it forth like a rabbit from his hat, but one also sees that the trick is not entirely superfluous or show-offy: the phrase ends neatly with its point. The music here is an admittedly cerebral one, and the poems are enjoyable, like late James, as much for the length and intricacy of their twistings as for the actual content-which is sometimes hard to make out past the gorgeous patterns. But there is content, and much of it is passionately flourished. Many poems concern desire, the ways it may be satisfied, deferred, or disappointed: "The hunt-was good; the kill, / less so, as you'd said to / expect. I don't listen, always." The metaphor of the hunt is one of Phillips's favorites, and he doesn't shy away from either the brutality or the tenderness it calls for. The empathy of Phillips's work, especially when set off against his remarkably austere language, is terrific and moving. The strength of these poems is their sinuosity of thought. In the best cases, that hard thought flowers into feeling and makes the poems memorable.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780374528454
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 4/3/2002
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 96
  • Sales rank: 413,936
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.22 (d)

Meet the Author

Carl Phillips is the author of four books of poems, including Pastoral and From the Devotions, a finalist for the National Book Award. He is an associate professor of English and of African and Afro-American Studies at Washington University in St. Louis.

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Read an Excerpt


What we shall not perhaps get over, we
do get past, until — innocent,

with art for once

not in mind, How did I get here,
we ask one day, our gaze

relinquishing one space for the next

in which, not far from where
in the uncut grass we're sitting

four men arc the unsaid

between them with the thrown
shoes of horses, luck briefly as a thing

of heft made to shape through

air a path invisible, but there . . .
Because we are flesh, because

who doesn't, some way, require touch,

it is the unsubstantial — that which can
neither know touch nor be known

by it — that most bewilders,

even if the four men at
play, if asked, presumably,

would not say so, any more

than would the fifth man, busy
mowing the field's far

edge, behind me,

his slow, relentless pace promising
long hours before the sorrow

of seeing him go and,

later still, the sorrow
going, until eventually the difficulty

only is this: there was some.


It is for, you see, eventually the deer to
take it, the fruit

hangs there. Meanwhile, they
graze with the kind

of idleness that suggests
both can be true: to see — and seem

not to — the possible danger of
us watching;

to notice, and to also
be indifferent to the certain

plunder of, between them
and us, the lone

tree, thick with apples the deer have
only to nose

up against,
what's ripe will fall, will

become theirs.
— A breeze, slightly —

in which, if nobody, nothing moves,
nevertheless when it comes to

waiting it is useless,
understand, to think the deer

won't outlast us. They have,
as do all animals before the getting

tamed, a patience that
comes from the expectation of,

routinely, some hungering.
Ourselves, we are bored easily:

how much time can
be left before — as toward, say,

an impossible suitor whom already
we've kept long enough

baying — we'll turn away, and
begin the life I've heard tell of?

The light is less, there. One of us
has betrayed the other.


Thank you for asking —

I have thought on the soul,

I have decided
it should not be faulted for

its indifference: that is as it

must be.
How blame

the lantern whose limits

always are only the light of
itself, casting the light


That the body enjoys
some moment

in that light, I regard

as privilege.
Say what

you will.

The hawk's shadow

the zeroed — in — upon prey,

Copyright 2001 Carl Phillips

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Table of Contents

Luck 3
Just South of the Kingdom 5
Spoils, Dividing 7
Words of Love 10
The Point of the Lambs 13
A Force, and Would Consume Us 17
Roman Glass 20
This, the Pattern 23
Stagger 25
Medallion 27
Regalia Figure 30
Strung Absentia 33
Recumbent 37
Lustrum 40
For the Falconer 45
Tether 48
Preamble 51
Chamber Music 53
Little Dance Outside the Ruins of Unreason 55
The Lost Chorus 58
The Pinnacle 61
Familiar 66
Chosen Figure 69
Caravan 71
Safari Figure 73
Yours, and the Room After 75
The Figure, the Boundary, the Light 77
Revision 79
Acknowledgments 83
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