Living Weapon: Poems

Farrar. Feb. 2020. 96p. ISBN 9780374191993. $24. POETRY
In his third collection (after Heaven, a National Book Award finalist), Phillips bookends a core set of poems between two longer prose pieces. The opening one, which has a Borgesian fairy tale–like quality, concerns a man who flies over New York and perches on the spire of the World Trade Center—“Flight is like untying the air itself, fold after fold and layer after layer”—while the closing piece is a travelog about Barcelona. In between, poems tackle current subjects such as digital vs. analog life, climate warming, and the Charlottesville, VA, white supremacist march. Several are based on myth; a couple of the best follow the Ars Poetica form. In “Night of the Election,” a Seamus Heaney poem disappears and an oyster “Appeared on a plate, languid, the color/ Of vanilla, moist fennel, raw silver,/ Crushed hay, sunk ships, quince and Jupiter.” Unfortunately, too many poems use repetition and sometimes rhyme to poor effect: “the worlds in it burning, ways/ Of I am now burning, feeling the Bern/ In the back of a cab without being burned,/ Then being burned. I wonder what learned.”
VERDICT An uneven but interesting collection showcasing life in New York City today, sometimes veering toward dull, ordinary language and sometimes singing with their take on society. For larger collections.
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