There must be a reason 2010 Guggenheim Fellow Patrick Phillips climbs on the furniture.
By Renée Olson
For Patrick Phillips, author of two highly regarded collections of poetry, crouching on a coffee table is key to publishing a book.
“At a certain point, you just gather all the poems you’ve written, and see what you’ve got,” says Phillips, an assistant professor of English. “I literally spread them out all over the floor, and get upon the coffee table and look at everything, all the ones I like, and think, ‘OK, what do any of these have to do with the others?’ And something is usually there.”
It may not be long before Phillips is on his coffee table again. A 2010 Guggenheim Fellowship will give him more time to concentrate on writing, which is essential for Phillips, an affably boyish father of two, whose spare, graceful poems often edge toward darkness. “The best poems for me cut through all the humdrum parts of life because a lot of life is boring, and a lot of life is tedious,” he says. “Writing is a wonderful thing because I can get to what seems vital and important.”
Called “a trustworthy American voice” by Pulitzer Prize–winning poet Philip Levine, Phillips readily owns up to the serious undercurrents in his work. “If there’s a darkness to the poems for me, it’s just because there’s a darkness to being … alive,” he says. “A lot of the culture wants to distract us from that. What’s lovely about being a poet is that you don’t have to do that. It’s your ship, and you’re the captain, so you can go wherever you want.”