[Phillips] is among our most prolific and widely and frequently published poets, and yet, reading his poems, I sense, too, their rareness ... His poems are cerebral but also sensuous. They are arguments with the self and the world — questions and reversals, attempts at definition and refinement — but they also feel skeptical of their own observations and conclusions. If their figurations are provisional and contingent, they are no less seductive ... I couldn’t mistake these poems for any other poet’s work. In a moment obsessed with snappy performances, Phillips’s poems are contemplative, rich, and troubled. They are rarely axiomatic or quotable. Often, their power lies in their unfolding ... The new poems, collected here for the first time under the title Then the War, show the poet deepening and extending the signature features of his artistry: his singular syntax, undulating and modulating over lines and stanzas, his restless sharpening and self-correction, his attention to the complexities of the desiring self. Phillips’s is a poetry of twists and turns, of subtle adjustments of meaning and specificity ... Carl Phillips interrogates sex, power, history, the way nature reflects and refuses our human desires. As usual, his new poems exploit the tensions between the force of music and the force of the sentence, the force of pleasure and the force of violence.
The 208 pages form a wonderfully compendious introduction to this major US poet. For those who have admired his work in the three decades since his debut, they are glowing confirmation that, as he enters his 60s, Phillips is writing better than ever ... The selection from earlier books that follows now reads as part of a single project of the utmost immediacy.
With an entirely new collection of poetry from Phillips bundled together with a selection of his multifarious work from across his 30-year career, this is a master class in his deceptively gentle voice and striking depictions of raw humanity ... Phillips nearly always cuts straight to the heart ... every selection provides a portal to this accomplished author’s work. An important milestone in the still flourishing career of a most brilliant poet.