Excerpt from an interview with Carl Phillips
4. You’ve written a lot about restlessness as the force to pivot around in art—how do you think this problem or gift of restlessness fuels another writerly concern, obsession? Does it go hand in hand with being an artist, or more specifically, a poet?
Restlessness tosses us from one thing to another. Obsession is a focusing on a single thing. But we don’t know what our obsessions might be, until restlessness tosses us in their direction—some stick, and others don’t. Just as we meet many people in a life, but we fall in love with a handful, if we’re lucky. I think both restlessness and obsession go hand in hand with being an artist, but I also think they go hand in hand with being a human being who is truly alive.
6. How intimately are politics and poetry linked in your mind? Do you consider every poem to be a political act, by its existence as an artifact, or do you have to decide to write a “political poem?”
I suppose every poem is political in some way. If the reigning mode is a plainspoken style of English, for example, perhaps to write poems like mine is a political act, arguing for independent uses of language. To write a poem about love between two men is not, to my mind, political, but I suppose it is, within a culture of homophobia. I’ve been told I’m political for refusing to write about race—I’m not sure what it means to write about race, anymore than I can say why I’m occasionally still told that I don’t seem to write a black poem. What is a black poem? What is a political poem?
7. There has been a lot of discussion lately about the future of the printed word and the solvency of literary journals and publishing in general. As a writer who publishes extensively in literary journals both high- and low-profile, what can you say about the value and necessity of these outlets?
I think journals are essential, for reasons that I can’t entirely explain. Partly it has to do with my need to feel—physically feel—something in my hands, with pages, with a smell of new paper, or old paper, to it. To read things online is a totally detached experience, for me. I feel alone in the room, somehow. Maybe that doesn’t make journals technically necessary, but art itself isn’t necessary either. Without it, though, the fabric of life would lack texture.