Rock Harbor Poems

Carl Phillips

Farrar, Straus and Giroux



Trade Paperback

128 Pages



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A Publishers Weekly Best Book

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.


Praise for Rock Harbor

"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.'"—The New Yorker

"Other poets have worked with the studiously short line that Phillips generally employs; other poets have been obsessed with the endlessly elaborate negotiation of the body and the soul. No other poet sounds like Carl Phillips because no one else locates that negotiation so squarely within the formal procedures of the poetry: the intricately calibrated tension between baroque syntax and brief line feels simultaneously like the action of the mind and the movement of the body."—James Longenbach, Boston Review

"The poems in Rock Harbor are both formal and casual, giving us the lineaments of interior life in beautiful, attenuated, enigmatic style."—Carol Muske-Dukes, Los Angeles Times Book Review

"In Rock Harbor, the poet enters the image as if plunging into a black hole, totally surrendering to the lyric moment. Wholly losing himself in a metaphorical construction, Phillips whispers in a dreamscape where subjective symbolism triggers recurring iconic fragments that yearn for transcendence. At the same time, Phillips always assumes a reverent, courting tone that is formal yet tender . . . At best, Phillips's poetry captures spare evocations of the sublime, condensed awe and fractal glances of splendor gained in an earnest, meditative state of awareness. Always, the poems in Rock Harbor are ambitious and brave . . . These poems succeed in inviting the audience to revel in the mystery of seeking meaning from life . . . The results are stunning."—Michael Graber, The Commercial Appeal

"The author of five previous collections . . . 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 . . . In poetry, as in music, the silences are as significant as the sounds—something ably proved by Phillips's verse . . . [These poems are] deeply compressed bits of beauty—and thought-provoking, too."—Library Journal

"Phillips reduces lyric poetry to its bare minimum, translating complex states of being into spare and clever syllogisms. His landscapes are stark, singular, and still. The living entities present, be they bird, tree, horse, or man, stand alone in wind and shifting light. Monumental in their carved perfection and deep mystery, they are embodiments of transcendence, objects of desire, instruments of pleasure and pain. As in The Tether, Phillips is fascinated by the pull between the wild and the refined, the imagined, and the tangible . . . Classical in his allusions, his mathematical lines, his emotional restraint, the sculptural elegance of his settings, and his depictions of the puppeteer powers of the gods and the ever-present possibility of violence in sexual acts, Phillips transports his readers to a rarefied poetic universe where everything metamorphoses in a 'shift-of-a-cloud / fashion,' just like dreams, perception, life itself."—Donna Seaman, Booklist

"Lingering at the junctures of desire and attainment, Phillip'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 . . . Phillips is at a seemingly indomitable stretch of his career."—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads



  • Carl Phillips

  • Carl Phillips is the author of nine previous books of poems, including Quiver of Arrows: Selected Poems, 1986-2006; Riding Westward; and The Rest of Love, a National Book Award finalist. He teaches at Washington University in St. Louis.

  • Carl Phillips Reston Allen