While Living Weapon takes risks its predecessors didn’t—none greater than the two prose sections that bookend the collection—the poems build, for the most part, on the foundation laid in the previous two books ... Over and again, Phillips strives—within his own poems—to chip away at an explicit definition of what exactly we mean when we say 'poetry' ... This kind of intellectual funhouse can be, at turns, both exhilarating and wearisome—like looking through an infinity mirror ... This blend of tradition and individual talent astonishes in both its intensity and restraint ... Rowan Ricardo Phillips works...with an acuity of mind and ear that invites his reader to join him in the joy (and pain) of discovering what a full awareness of time brings. As with many daring impulses, Phillips’s constant shuttling between centuries can, every so often, lead him astray ... Still, Phillips’s desire to meet us where we are—surrounded by the noise of campaign slogans and epic similes alike—leads to some of the collection’s highest-soaring moments.
Phillips has a brooding eye that can render landscapes as more than pretty passages of nature ... Such advantages shouldn’t be wasted, yet in many poems all that’s ventured is not gained ... There’s far too much lala-ing in this book. A few poems live in the real city of New York and act accordingly. Four cops walk into a cellphone store. Great premise, but the poem seems paid by the word, the poet tracking every gesture for an anecdote never as necessary as his dedication to nuance suggests. Phillips wants to say something about authority, and threat, and the violence that seeps through the bulletproof vest; but what the poor reader gets verges on caricature ... You can’t simply throw around hulking abstractions like 'lies' and 'fear' and 'terror,' expecting the reader to mistake speechifying for wisdom ... in Phillips’s new work I feel like Hansel and Gretel after losing their bread crumbs. Living Weapon begins and ends in prose, and the poems between come like a forced march in a manner infected by Wallace Stevens at his blowziest ... stray pleasures are typical of this often frustrating book.
The crisis here is the sense of a questioning of everything, of infinite possibilities, of multitudinous worlds. Yet, this questioning comes astride sacred and profane values ... Perfectly capturing the tension between abstract ideals and the pull of the body, it is hard not to admire ... What is a real cause for concern...is the notion of walls, the notion that the conversation has come to an end. This is the terrifying evil the book unfurls.