Books

Living Weapon

The award-winning essayist and poet Rowan Ricardo Phillips presents a bracing renewal of civic poetry in Living Weapon.

. . . and we’d do this again
And again and again, without ever
Knowing we were the weapon ourselves,
Stronger than steel, story, and hydrogen . . .

A revelation, a shoring up, a transposition: Living Weapon is a love song to the imagination, a new blade of light homing in on our political moment. A winged man plummets from the troposphere; four NYPD officers enter a cell phone store; concrete sidewalks hang overhead. Here, in his third collection of poems, Phillips ruminates on violins and violence, on hatred, on turning forty-three, even on the end of existence itself. Living Weapon reveals the limitations of our vocabulary, showing that our platitudes are inadequate to the brutal times we find ourselves in. But still, our lives go on, and these are poems of survival as much as indictment. Couched in language both wry and ample, Living Weapon is a piercing collection from “a virtuoso poetic voice” (Granta).

Guardian 2021 in Books: What to Look for This Year Selection

Poetry Book Society Spring 2021 Selection

Australian Book Review 2020 Book of the Year Selection

Library Journal Best Books 2020 Selection

“Rowan Ricardo Phillips’ determination to push beyond irony into affirmation is an audacious gesture–’resilient as bioluminescence’, these poems of ‘song and pain’ announce a bold new talent.” –The Guardian

Living Weapon is just that: language pitched to refuse the Social Death at the heart of empire. Here are poems alive to ‘a life time of violence,’ ranging in form and texture brilliantly synthesizing volatile ideas of disorder. This synthesis cements Phillips as one of the great transatlantic commuters. Yet, Phillips is not a tragic elegist writing the world’s contemporary disasters; his gift is a private and therefore a richer agon, one in alliance with Dante’s concept of ‘commedia,’ a word of duel roots, meaning ‘village’ (comus) and ‘song’ (oda). Lodged in Phillips is a singular singer’s humility to create the tough simplicity of a song—and Living Weapon is full of redemption songs—wailing beautifully ‘in the void, lala: aiai, song and pain’ of what will endure.” Ishion Hutchinson

“Rewarding both close and sustained attention from the outset, Living Weapon stands as the last installment of a poetic trilogy . . . Throughout the collection, Rowan Ricardo Phillips refuses to abandon the past; instead, he interrogates its ghosts—in all their terrible admixture of violence and beauty—and, despite every reason not to, he sings.” Los Angeles Review of Books

“In the collection, Phillips brilliantly uses poetry to probe contemporary life and all its tensions, and provide a clear-sighted respite from those tensions. Written by a master of the form and tone, Living Weapon is essential reading.”  —Nick Laird

“Look closely and you can see major moments in US history informing his three collections. The Ground (2012) fell under in the shadow of 9/11; Heaven (2015) under the presidency of Barack Obama; and now the final part of this informal trinity, Living Weapon (2020) comes in the age of Donald Trump and COVID-19.

But though each collection can be read in context of specific eras, it is the idea of history itself—or at least an ossified sense of time and progress—that falls under siege in the latest book. Living Weapon asks us to resist the past, to imagine a different world. And key to this is the dream-will of the individual.”
—Andre Bagoo, The Rumpus

The Circuit: A Tennis Odyssey

An energetic, lyrical, genre-defying account of the 2017 tennis season.

In The Circuit: A Tennis Odyssey, the award-winning poet—and Paris Review sports columnist—Rowan Ricardo Phillips chronicles 2017 as seen through the unique prism of its pivotal, revelatory, and historic tennis season. The annual tennis schedule is a rarity in professional sports in that it encapsulates the calendar year. And like the year, it’s divided into four seasons, each marked by a final tournament: the Grand Slams.

Phillips charts the year from winter’s Australian Open, where Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal renewed their rivalry in a match for the ages, to fall’s U.S. Open. Along the way, Phillips paints a new, vibrant portrait of tennis, one that captures not only the emotions, nerves, and ruthless tactics of the point-by-point game but also the quicksilver movement of victory and defeat on the tour, placing that sense of upheaval within a broader cultural and social context. Tennis has long been thought of as an escapist spectacle: a bucolic, separate bauble of life.

The Circuit will convince you that you don’t leave the world behind as you watch tennis—you bring it with you.

Winner of the 2019 PEN/ESPN Literary Sportswriting Award

San Francisco Chronicle 2018 Best Book of the Year

“Phillips reveals his love of tennis on every page. There is a generosity of spirit toward the reader . . . a joy to read: a poet’s love song to the game of tennis.” The New York Times Book Review

The Circuit is the best sports book I’ve read in years, maybe ever.” —Rich Cohen, author of The Chicago Cubs: Story of a Curse and The Sun & The Moon & The Rolling Stones

“As sports writing goes, The Circuit is unusual in the very best way. Rowan Ricardo Phillips writes with such fluidity, and packs the book with bursts of brilliance. This is a compulsively readable guide to one truly Homeric year of professional tennis.” —John Green, author of The Fault in Our Stars

Heaven

“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 Iliad, 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.

Winner of the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Poetry

Winner of the Nicolás Guillén Outstanding Book Award

Finalist for the Griffin International Poetry Prize

Longlisted for the National Book Award

Longlisted for the PEN Open Book Award

One of The Washington Post’s Best Poetry Collections of 2015

One of NPR’s Best Books of 2015

One of Flavorwire’s Best Poetry Books of 2015

“[Heaven] is full of grace and beauty . . . No matter where [Phillips] goes, his language is hauntingly astute, and the reality he conjures is multilayered.” The Washington Post

The Ground

A masterful debut from a powerfully original poetic voice.

A poignant and terse vision of New York City unfolds in Rowan Ricardo Phillips’s debut book of poetry. A work of rare beauty and grace, The Ground is an entire world, drawn and revealed through contemplation of the post-9/11 landscape. With musicality and precision of thought, Phillips’s poems limn the troubadour’s journey in an increasingly surreal modern world (“I plugged my poem into a manhole cover / That flamed into the first guitar”). The origin of mankind, the origin of the self, the self’s development in the sensuous world, and—in both a literal and a figurative sense—the end of all things sing through Phillips’s supple and idiosyncratic poems. The poet’s subtle formal sophistication—somewhere between flair and restraint—and sense of lyric possibility bring together the hard glint of the contemporary world and the eroded permanence of the archaic one through remixes, underground sessions, Spenserian stanzas, myths, and revamped translations. These are poems of fiery intelligence, inescapable music, and metaphysical splendor that concern themselves with lived life and the life of the imagination—both equally vivid and true—as they lay the framework for Phillips’s meditations on our connection to and estrangement from the natural world.

Winner of the PEN/Joyce Osterweil Award in Poetry

Winner of the GLCA New Writers Award in Poetry

Finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in Poetry

Finalist for the NAACP Award for Outstanding Work in Poetry

“A truly extraordinary book, the best first book by an American poet I’ve read in years.” Commonweal

When Blackness Rhymes with Blackness

A new edition of When Blackness Rhymes with Blackness will be published soon by Farrar, Straus and Giroux”