2015 National Book Award Finalist, Poetry
Elegy for a Broken Machine
(Alfred A. Knopf)
An acute awareness of mortality gives Elegy for a Broken Machine a paradoxical, striking vitality. Whether writing about his father’s drawn-out illness, an old guitar, his small son’s school project, married and unmarried love, or the long-forgone pleasures of smoking, Patrick Phillips reminds us that love calls us to the things of this world in all its beauty, sorrow, comedy, and vanishing.
National Book Foundation: In the process of writing your book, what did you discover, what, if anything, surprised you?
Phillips: One of the discoveries of mid-life is that all the "grown-ups" we thought strongest, bravest, and most immune to death, will weaken and fade. I learned this when two of the men I love most in the world--two fathers to me--fell gravely ill. As a result, in the years just before I wrote Elegy for a Broken Machine, I spent more time than I ever had in hospital rooms and intensive care units, and in the company of nurses and hospice caregivers.
I wanted to write poems about that fluorescent-lit, 4 a.m. world, because every time I left, it was life outside that seemed unreal. One of the things that surprised me as I worked on the book was how often poems about the failing body wanted to also be about youth: about my father and my father-in-law in their primes... young, strong, and beautiful. So that was another discovery: that the elegy is made of lament and praise. Lament for the lost king, and praise for the kingdom he once was.
ABOUT THE BOOK
The poet Patrick Phillips’ stunning collection of elegies that bear witness to the small beauties and inevitable losses of our transient life.
About the Author
Patrick Phillips is the author of two poetry collections, Boy and Chattahoochee, which won the 2005 Kate Tufts Discovery Award. His honors include both Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, the Lyric Poetry Award from the Poetry Society of America, a Discovery / The Nation Prize from the 92nd Street Y, and the Translation Prize of the American-Scandinavian Foundation. He lives in Brooklyn and teaches at Drew University.
Photo credit: Marion Ettlinger
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