Saturday, November 4, 2017

Shape of Faith - John Phillips (Shearsman Books)

Today's book of poetry:
Shape of Faith.  John Phillips.  Shearsman Books.  Bristol, U.K.  2017.

John Phillips - Shape of Faith


Because words reveal
the separation

of what is
from what is said to be:

in Paradise
language would be a sin


British poet John Phillips employs many of the same tactics as our own beloved Nelson Ball.  Phillips never overstates anything.  Shape of Faith is spartan, just as David Miller says.  There is no fat.  Phillips gets to it.

And what he gets to are the basic questions that end in faith.

You could write most of these astute and pristine poems on a post-it note and carry it in your pocket for later use.


for Theodore Enslin

The daffodils are
      coming into
a number of
& a kind of blue
          I found
          years ago
in an
          abandoned garden
       a swallow just
                  fluttered in


John Phillips captures the everyday and is willing to show the whimsy of it.  Again and again when reading Shape of Faith Today's book of poetry had to pause and let these short bursts of concentrated sage and savvy wisdom sink in.

Phillips is willing to go long when necessary and his poem "Lateword" marches over several pages before ending in the matrimonial bliss of a child sleeping under the parents touching embrace.  It seems Phillips is aware of the bad but deeply concerned with finding the best of us, the good.


Reading Jean Daive on his friend Paul Celan:  struck by this
sentence:  a stranger to nothing in this world.  Looking back
through the book, I can't find those words anywhere.  Yet
swear I read it this afternoon, sitting on the bench in the
garden, while my daughter Lana slept upstairs and the house
was otherwise empty.  It was a line that pierced me.  Perhaps
because my first reaction to it, however brief, was positive.
Then the shock, the revulsion:  that someone could say that
about another person;  that it could be true.


John Phillips' Shape of Faith is the first British poet/book Today's book of poetry has had the pleasure of posting.  His terse and ticklish voice one we haven't heard before but we recognize it as a kindred immediately.

Our morning read was a little submarined today.  The read followed a feed.  The day started with a feast of French Toast smothered in butter and Maple Syrup, and BACON, along with a glass of Mickey D.  We wanted proper orange juice but all Chez Charlot had this morning was Mickey.

The morning itself was a happy square-dance of readers in various prone positions littered around the office like tired octopuses out of the water all bacon and French Toast lethargic.  Our crowed enjoyed the poems and their breakfast then sauntered slowly and sloth-like back to their individual poetry burrows and I haven't heard a peep from any of them since.

I looked in on Milo, our head tech, he was dead to the world but I could still hear The Cure beautifully moaning through his headphones.


Still looking
for the piece

of the word
that fell off

the last time
I used it --

thinking it
might explain

what happened
next or say

what didn't


John Phillips' Shape of Faith is a clean machine.  These poems have no extraneous cargo, they are tight as a duck's butt.  And smart.

Any of you regular Today's book of poetry minions will know how much we admire smart.

Picture of author John Phillips
John Phillips

John Phillips was born in St. Ives, Cornwall — where he still lives — and is the author of Heretic (Longhouse, 2016), What Shape Sound (Skysill Press, 2011) and Language Is (Sardines Press, 2005), as well as a number of chapbooks.

"Phillips would have us look no further than the poem itself for the primary matter of its own accordant recognition as fact. So that to write is to read ourselves into being alive in forms we have no further proof of than the act of the poem's own declaration."
     —Patrick James Dunagan 
"Many speak to me in that place that is beyond speech; that transcends the tyranny of words, which is the taste of true poetry.  Some carry that resonance that results from the retrieval, retrospectively, of a moment of precognitive awareness of an object or event which perceives it revealed unadorned, prior to the arising of the conditioning, serial moments of conceptual, dualistic thought.  Poems where the ego-self of the poet is absent.  Those moments of true ‘poetry’ before what we call poetry."
      — Malcolm Ritchie 
"At its best this is highly unusual, Spartan, thought-provoking, intelligent and subtly, quietly moving work."  
     —David Miller 
"I love the book… And you lead me to places I recognise but have never been able to name – as you do! "
      —John Berger 

JOHN PHILLIPS | 29 May 2012
Video: damnthecaesars


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