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Rowan Ricardo Phillips

1974–

Born in New York City in 1974, Rowan Ricardo Phillips earned his BA at Swarthmore College and his PhD at Brown University.

He is the author of two books of poetry: Heaven (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015), which was a longlist finalist for the National Book Award, and The Ground (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012), for which he received the 2013 Great Lakes Colleges Association New Writers Award for Poetry and the PEN/Joyce Osterweil Award.

In her review of Phillips’s debut collection, Evie Shockley writes, “The poems in The Ground carry the authoritative descriptions and rhythms of Walcott, the philosophical and symbolic flights of Stevens, the subtle humor and cosmopolitanism of Dove, but in a language whose musical blend of the contemporary and the timeless is all Phillips’s own. These poems assert cycles—they repeat, recur, and return—but where we end up is not where we started. “

Phillips is also the author of a book of literary criticism, When Blackness Rhymes with Blackness (Dalkey Archive Press, 2010), and a translation of Catalan poet Salvador Espriu’s Ariadne in the Grotesque Labyrinth (Dalkey Archive Press, 2012).

Phillips has taught at Columbia University, Harvard University, Princeton University, and Stony Brook University, where he was also director of the Poetry Center. In 2013, he received a Whiting Writers’ Award, and two years later, he was awarded a Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship. A fellow at the New York Institute for the Humanities at New York University, Phillips divides his time between New York City and Barcelona, Spain.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry

Heaven (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015)
The Ground (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012)

Criticism

When Blackness Rhymes with Blackness (Dalkey Archive Press, 2010)

Rowan Ricardo Phillips
Photo credit: Sue Kwon

By This Poet

4

The Odyssey, Book 11: ll. 538-556


The soul of swift-soled Achilles hearing me
Praise his son, silvered, and then was gone,
His long strides causing him to blend, light-bent,
Into the shining, maize meadow cloudbank						
Shadowed by that one solitary tree 
It takes sixteen years for light, let alone
A soul, to cross.
		 The other dead, who thrived
Though they had died, rejoiced at seeing me
And sang, one by one, to me; and I in 
Turn said back to one after the other
That the song that soul sang was a blessing
And that I had never heard anything
Like it; which was true, but also, I must
Admit, they bored me to tears, tears that their
Surprisingly still finite knowledge took
As tears of pure joy from hearing them sing.

Only Ajax Telamoniades
Kept away, arms crossed, refusing to speak,
Dim-starred and disappearing into his rage.
All because of a simple spar of words,
A mere speech, and winning Achilles’ armor.
Athena above and those men at the ships
Decided that, not me, although it’s true 
He never stood chance. But by custom
Should have been given the matchless metal. 
How I wish I hadn’t won that contest.
How the ground closed over his head for it.
What a fool I can be. Ajax. Who knew
No equal in action but for the one
Man who surpassed him, just-fled Achilles,
So capable of happiness despite
All that happened because he washed up here,
Heaven: this implausible place for us.

Strange that Ajax is also in Heaven
Despite ending his legendary life.
In the end he’s won, but he doesn’t seem
To understand that he’s won. Poor Ajax.
Like always, I thought I had winning words
And so I said to him with unreturned gaze:
“Son of great Telamon, mighty Ajax, 
War tower, shake free of your anger.
No one else is to blame but Zeus, and look,
He is no longer here, friend. Paradise
Has found you and given you an eternal
Roof under the one tree of High Heaven.
Zeus treated us so terribly, and you,
Whom he should have loved like his strongest son,
You worst of all.
   But that is history
Now. Come, my strong brother, lord and deserved
Winner of all Achilles wore and was,
Come, be with us here; let me hear the light
Of Heaven in your voice; and let me know,
Because I love you, how you (of all men!)
Ended up in the keen of this endless berm.”
But Ajax, gift-eyed, said nothing to me
And took his seat under the rowan tree.

Death and the City

Yesterday’s newspaper becomes last week’s
Newspapers spread out like a hand-held fan
In front of the face of the apartment
Door. A dog does the Argos-thing inside,
Waiting beside O as though his body
Is but an Ithaca waiting the soul’s
Return. Neil the Super will soon come up
With the key but only in time to find
Doreen, the on-the-down-low-friend-with-perks,
There already, kneeling between the two,
Stroking the hair of both O and the dog,
Wondering who had been walking the dog.

Washington Mews

I won’t ever tell you how it ended.
But it ended. I was told not to act
Like it was some big dramatic moment.
She swiveled on her heels like she twirled just
The other day on a bar stool, the joy
Gone out of it now. Then she walked away.
I called out to her once. She slightly turned.
But she didn’t stop. I called out again.
And that was when, well, that’s just when
You know: You will always be what you were
On that small street at that small time, right when
She left and Pluto sudsed your throat and said,
Puedo escribir los versos más tristes esta noche
Tú la quisiste, y a veces ella también te quiso.

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