The Art of Distance No. 15

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The Art of Distance

In March, The Paris Review launched The Art of Distance, a newsletter highlighting unlocked archive pieces that resonate with the staff of the magazine, quarantine-appropriate writing on the Daily, resources from our peer organizations, and more. Read Emily Nemens’s introductory letter here, and find the latest unlocked archive pieces below.

As we move from spring to summer, as the days shift from getting longer to getting shorter, as some states push to reopen while others are placing new restrictions, I find myself split as well: wild to get outside, and desperate to crawl into a hole with a very big book. So I’m taking many walks outside with my family’s new puppy, Cashew (yep, we got a pandemic pup), and my current pandemic reading plan involves books in series—since reading all three volumes of Octavia E. Butler’s Xenogenesis trilogy, I’ve moved on to alternating between Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels and Rachel Cusk’s Outline trilogy (you’ll find these last two authors’ Art of Fiction interviews unlocked if you click their names). And so this installment of The Art of Distance, which offers another deep dive into the work of a single writer, features the poet Carl Phillips, whose work resonates for me in ways public and personal. I love the syntactical challenges his poems pose, of course, but his work in the TPR archive also forms a bit of a series—Phillips has conducted one Art of Poetry interview and been the subject of another; in the latter, he also talks a good deal about walking his dog, so we’ve got that in common. These connections may seem tenuous, but in these weird times, I’ll take what I can get. May you, too, find focus, clarity, and a sense of shared consciousness and conscience in Phillips’s work.” —Craig Morgan Teicher, Digital Director

Carl Phillips. Photo: Reston Allen.

Carl Phillips is one of America’s most beloved contemporary poets, known for his command of English syntax, his blending of classical mythology and contemporary concerns, and his deep explorations of eros and its implications. As judge of the Yale Younger Poets Prize, he has also been an advocate for new writers, launching the careers of Eduardo C. Corral, Airea D. Matthews, Yanyi, and others.

Phillips has been publishing poems in the Review since the early nineties, is the subject of one Art of Poetry interview, and conducted another. Before you start reading, though, watch his most recent contribution, this short video in the Poets on Couches series TPR launched shortly after lockdown began:

Phillips’s Art of Poetry interview, conducted by the poet Rick Barot, delves into growing up with one Black and one white parent, a lifelong engagement with the classics, and Phillips being “terrified” when speaking with Geoffrey Hill for his Art of Poetry interview.

Hill is another poet obsessed with stretching and straining the bounds of syntax, as his Art of Poetry interview shows. He is an intricate thinker, and prodded by Phillips’s equally intricate mind, his responses interweave his views on aesthetics, metaphysics, and his political sensibility: “One’s idea of the authentic self may be quite different from the authentic self as it really is. The dividing line between innocent stupidity and fakery is very unclear; and I think that innocent stupidity and deliberate fakery can coexist in the one writer.”

The Review has published seven of Phillips’s poems over the past three decades. It’s a snapshot of his stylistic evolution, the earliest poems set in orderly columns and couplets, the most recent snaking and stretching across the page. They’re all unlocked, and may these first lines be tantalizing enough to make you want to read line two:

Fra Lippo Lippi and the Vision of Henley” (Issue no. 122, Spring 1992)
If, in depicting the angels, I cannot

Youth with Satyr, Both Resting” (Issue no. 135, Summer 1995)
There are certain words—ecstasy, abandon

On Morals” (Issue no. 135, Summer 1995)
Naturally, the preference is for

The Swain’s Invitation” (Issue no. 135, Summer 1995)
The barn is warm, come inside, lie down

Of That City, the Heart” (Issue no. 148, Fall 1998)
You lived here once. City—remember?—

On Triumph” (Issue no. 226, Fall 2018)
If done steadily, and with the kind of patience that belies all fear

Unbridled” (Issue no. 226, Fall 2018)
To look at them, you might not think the two men, having spoken briefly

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