Archetypes: Carl Phillips

 In Feature, Style

An interview with Carl Phillips, poet and professor of English and African/African-American Studies at Washington University and 2011 finalist for the National Book Award.


What is your current mood or state of mind?
Wondering if a poem I just wrote is finished.

What makes you happy?
Knowing I’ve written a good poem, good sex and excellent food, especially if I made it myself.

What is your idea of misery?
Living without imaginative risks.

What did you eat for breakfast today?
An English muffin and a glass of orange juice.

What is one word that describes you?

What trait do you value most in others?
Directness, even though it can hurt.

What’s your favorite occupation?
Probably prep work for cooking; it’s a real release, and it’s the opposite of writing or teaching.

Who would you most like to be?
Madonna in the time of “Erotica.” I like the sacred and the profane.

What is your favorite color?

What is your favorite food?

What food do you like the least?

If you could have dinner with anyone (dead or alive) who would it be?
Billie Holiday, as long as she’s having a good day.

What vice do you most tolerate in others?

What talent do you wish you had?
The ability to play the bass guitar.

Who is your favorite author?
Li Po, the Chinese poet.

What excites you?
Reasonable risks.

What do you consider a turnoff?
Bad bed habits, like hogging the sheets or eating something gross in bed, like a sloppy joe.

What do you love?
I love animals and serving food.

What do you hate?
Intolerance of difference.

What are you most looking forward to?
The next poem.

What is one thing you wish would happen?
That I get to live a long time in good health and that I have the time and energy to keep surprising myself.

What is your favorite quote?
“I’d rather have people ask why there’s no statue of me in Rome, than why there is one,” Cato the Elder.

What is something you want to learn?
I want to know more dances. I do the Continental very well.

What is your personal motto?
At the end of the day, you have to be true to yourself.

In another life, you would be: It might have been nice to be Sophocles.

What is your current obsession?
New music; it’s an ongoing one.

What is your favorite word?
Fuck. I’m told I use it a lot. I use it as an expression of joy.

What is your least favorite word?

What is on your “bucket list”?
I hope I’ve written some poems that are memorable. And, to have a vegetable garden, live in view of the ocean and invent my own recipe.

Your hidden talent: Cleaning a toilet bowl.

Personal hero: Nina Simone, a talented singer and social activist.

If you could have a conversation with your younger self, what would you say?
You don’t have to be afraid. Things are going to go in directions you never imagined. And, you’re not the loser you think you are.



Carl Phillips

Carl Phillips


Photo credit: Photo by Wesley Law

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