2015 National Book Award Longlist, Poetry
Rowan Ricardo Phillips
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
National Book Foundation: In the process of writing your book, what did you discover, what, if anything, surprised you?
Phillips: I had never gone away to work on a book and I discovered in the process of writing Heaven that it suited to me. The isolation of the Colorado mountains, the absence of internet, the total surround of the natural world from sun up to sun down and then after in the star-studded night and snow, the always-one-step-ahead-of-you animals with their inherited daily routines––what surprised me was how much it reminded me of a city and how much, as a writer born in the city, I found more and more of myself in that natural world, how estranging and yet familiar it felt, and how there was nothing I wanted to do but read and write and look out onto that world because I knew I was witnessing a part of heaven and the refusal of heaven and I was fortunate and enhanced to hear it talk back to me.
ABOUT THE BOOK
A spectacularly vibrant and continually surprising collection from one of the poetry world's rising young stars "Who the hell's heaven is this?". Rowan Ricardo Phillips offers many answers, and none at all, in Heaven, the piercing and revelatory encore to his award-winning debut, The Ground. Swerving elegantly from humor to heartbreak, from Colorado to Florida, from Dante's Paradise to Homer's Illiad, from knowledge to ignorance to awe, Phillips turns his gaze upward and outward, probing and upending notions of the beyond. "Feeling, real feeling / with all its faulty / Architecture, is / Beyond a god's touch"--but it does not elude Phillips. Meditating on feverish boyhood, on two paintings by Chuck Close, on Shakespeare's Measure for Measure, on a dead rooster by the side of the road in Ohio, on an elk grazing outside his window, his language remains eternally intoxicating, full of play, pathos, and surprise. "The end," he writes, "like / All I've ever told you, is uncertain." Or, elsewhere: "The only way then to know a truth / Is to squint in its direction and poke." Phillips--who received a 2013 Whiting Writers' Award as well as the PEN/Joyce Osterweil Award--may not be certain, but as he squints and pokes in the direction of truth, his power of perception and elegance of expression create a place where beauty and truth come together and drift apart like a planet orbiting its star. The result is a book whose lush and wounding beauty will leave its mark on readers long after they've turned the last page.
About the Author
Rowan Ricardo Phillips is the author of Heaven (FSG, 2015) and The Ground (FSG, 2012). He is the recipient of a Whiting Writers' Award, the PEN/Joyce Osterweil Award, the GLCA New Writers Award for Poetry, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. He lives in New York City.
- Twitter: @RowanRicardo
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