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Coin of the Realm: Essays on the Life and Art of Poetry

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The Award-winning poet Carl Phillips grapples with issues of authority, identity, and beauty in these sensual and deeply intelligent essays The "coin of the realm" is, classically, the currency that for any culture most holds value. In art, as in life, the poet Carl Phillips argues, that currency includes beauty, risk, and authority-values of meaning and complexity that all The Award-winning poet Carl Phillips grapples with issues of authority, identity, and beauty in these sensual and deeply intelligent essays The "coin of the realm" is, classically, the currency that for any culture most holds value. In art, as in life, the poet Carl Phillips argues, that currency includes beauty, risk, and authority-values of meaning and complexity that all too often go disregarded. Together, these essays become an invaluable statement for the necessary-and necessarily difficult-work of the imagination and the will, even when, as Phillips states in his title essay, "the last thing that most human beings seem capable of trusting naturally-instinctively-is themselves, their own judgment."


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The Award-winning poet Carl Phillips grapples with issues of authority, identity, and beauty in these sensual and deeply intelligent essays The "coin of the realm" is, classically, the currency that for any culture most holds value. In art, as in life, the poet Carl Phillips argues, that currency includes beauty, risk, and authority-values of meaning and complexity that all The Award-winning poet Carl Phillips grapples with issues of authority, identity, and beauty in these sensual and deeply intelligent essays The "coin of the realm" is, classically, the currency that for any culture most holds value. In art, as in life, the poet Carl Phillips argues, that currency includes beauty, risk, and authority-values of meaning and complexity that all too often go disregarded. Together, these essays become an invaluable statement for the necessary-and necessarily difficult-work of the imagination and the will, even when, as Phillips states in his title essay, "the last thing that most human beings seem capable of trusting naturally-instinctively-is themselves, their own judgment."

30 review for Coin of the Realm: Essays on the Life and Art of Poetry

  1. 4 out of 5

    Gary McDowell

    The essay on the prose poem is good but far from the last word.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jee Koh

    After reading Carl Phillips' collection of essays, Coin of the Realm, I see more clearly what draws me to his poetry. His poems aim at seduction of the reader, through beauty that comes from authority that, in turn, comes, from athletic thinking. There are fine essays here on individual poets, such as George Herbert and T. S. Eliot, and on individual poems, such as George Oppen's "Psalm," Gwendolyn Brooks's "A light and diplomatic bird," and Sylvia Plath's "Winter Trees." There is also a long su After reading Carl Phillips' collection of essays, Coin of the Realm, I see more clearly what draws me to his poetry. His poems aim at seduction of the reader, through beauty that comes from authority that, in turn, comes, from athletic thinking. There are fine essays here on individual poets, such as George Herbert and T. S. Eliot, and on individual poems, such as George Oppen's "Psalm," Gwendolyn Brooks's "A light and diplomatic bird," and Sylvia Plath's "Winter Trees." There is also a long substantial essay on the Psalms. These essays give a strong sense of the poetic qualities that Phillips value: besides beauty, a prayerful attitude akin to desire in its openness; an exquisite control. Fine as these essays are, I prefer the essays on poetics, which are illustrated by a wealth of examples from a wide range of poets. In defending the use of association in poetry, Phillips also points out its limits, of final clarity and ultimate pattern. His examination of what makes a prose poem is judicious and thoughtful, in the course of which he throws out this gem: ... the lyric poem is a torso. Without the extremities of arms, legs, head, the torso has to serve as representative of all that's missing, has to resonate in the manner of Rilke's archaic torso of Apollo. In the essay "Abstraction on Parnassus: American Poetry of the 1950s" he looks at the poetry of Ginsberg, Levertov, Creeley, Orson, Berryman and O'Hara to show how the post-war Americans wrote on the assumption that content determined form. It is clear that Phillips sees himself in the same American lineage. Most valuable to me is his essay "Boon and Burden: Identity in Contemporary American Poetry." He begins the essay by describing how his class responds to a poem by Langston Hughes called "Island." Before he reveals the name of the poet, the class dwells on its "existential" meaning. After he tells them that the poem is by Hughes, the class becomes certain that the sea voyage in the poem is a veiled reference to Middle Passage. When Phillips adduces the fact that Hughes was gay, the inability to reach the island becomes, for the class, a metaphor for socially enforced isolation. Phillips thus shows how poetic identity can narrow the interpretation of a poem. He is against such narrowing. I also enjoyed his coming-out essay "Sea Level." His interview, however, I find evasive. The two essays on books and reading do not give anything very new.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Terry

    The essays in this strong collection range from autobiography to close reading to anthologizing meditations. To my mind, the best essays are the most focused: an essay on the Psalms, another on George Herbert, a third on T. S. Eliot, and the quick, close readings of poems by Gwendolyn Brooks and Sylvia Plath. Some pieces take up interesting topics (the use of myth and fable, association in poetry, the prose poem) and guide the reader on a tour of a half dozen or so relevant poems, offering brisk The essays in this strong collection range from autobiography to close reading to anthologizing meditations. To my mind, the best essays are the most focused: an essay on the Psalms, another on George Herbert, a third on T. S. Eliot, and the quick, close readings of poems by Gwendolyn Brooks and Sylvia Plath. Some pieces take up interesting topics (the use of myth and fable, association in poetry, the prose poem) and guide the reader on a tour of a half dozen or so relevant poems, offering brisk insights along the way--quite nice as appetizers, which is, I think, their intended purpose. Among these treatments of broader topics, those that explore questions of identity in the life of the artist--"Boon and Burden" as well as the title essay--seem the most fully realized.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Heather Gibbons

    Good so far, though I'm somewhat disappointed by the essay on associative poetry. He makes a strong distinction between the associative poem and the surreal poem by saying, essentially, that the surreal poem will always refuse meaning whereas the associative poem will always yield meaning-- what? But the brief "The Case for Beauty" is persuasive, the essay on myth and fable in poetry is fascinating in the way he identifies various intertextual approaches by way of some wonderful examples. And I Good so far, though I'm somewhat disappointed by the essay on associative poetry. He makes a strong distinction between the associative poem and the surreal poem by saying, essentially, that the surreal poem will always refuse meaning whereas the associative poem will always yield meaning-- what? But the brief "The Case for Beauty" is persuasive, the essay on myth and fable in poetry is fascinating in the way he identifies various intertextual approaches by way of some wonderful examples. And I love the one on restiveness and the psalms.

  5. 4 out of 5

    C

    Some really lovely stuff here, especially in the book's first section. My favorite essays were less focused on Phillip's own work/the close reading of other poems and more interested in bigger questions of risk, association, audience, etc. Particularly good: "The Case for Beauty," "Myth and Fable," "No Rapture," "Sea Level," "Boon and Burden." Some really lovely stuff here, especially in the book's first section. My favorite essays were less focused on Phillip's own work/the close reading of other poems and more interested in bigger questions of risk, association, audience, etc. Particularly good: "The Case for Beauty," "Myth and Fable," "No Rapture," "Sea Level," "Boon and Burden."

  6. 5 out of 5

    Sandra

    In this series of essays, Phillips not only explicates a number of poems, but critiques their particular value, both for the era in which they are written, and for all time. Along the way, he gently critiques the state of the art in contemporary times. In my estimation, he is quite fair, and infinitely compassionate.

  7. 5 out of 5

    rory

    Favorites: "Association in Poetry", interview with Nick Flynn, "Coin of the Realm." Favorites: "Association in Poetry", interview with Nick Flynn, "Coin of the Realm."

  8. 4 out of 5

    Mandy E

  9. 4 out of 5

    Kelly

  10. 5 out of 5

    Chelsea Hill

  11. 5 out of 5

    Khadijah

  12. 4 out of 5

    Jason

  13. 4 out of 5

    Rambling Reader

  14. 5 out of 5

    Brian Short

  15. 4 out of 5

    Brett

  16. 4 out of 5

    Gina Franco

  17. 5 out of 5

    Laurie Guerrero

  18. 5 out of 5

    Tameca

  19. 5 out of 5

    Leah

  20. 4 out of 5

    Maya

  21. 5 out of 5

    Suzanne

  22. 5 out of 5

    Valerie

  23. 4 out of 5

    Brian Teare

  24. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

  25. 4 out of 5

    Stokely Klasovsky

  26. 4 out of 5

    Mary Helen

  27. 4 out of 5

    William Reichard

  28. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Tompkins

  29. 4 out of 5

    Brett Underwood

  30. 4 out of 5

    A.E.

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