Oyster Boy Review 21  
  Poetry Annual 2014
» Cover

» Art
» Poetry
» Essays
» Reviews

» Contributors

» Oyster Boy Review
» Levee 67


Soundings, i.e. Proofs

John Phillips on what's "there not there"

Patrick James Dunagan

  What Shape Sound.
John Phillips.
Skysill Press, 2011.
110 pages, $15 (paperback).
ISBN: 1907489045.
Buy at Amazon.

John Phillips is preoccupied with possibility. Writing allows him to explore how language manages sound as both part and not part of what writing would assume have it be. For, as the title of this second collection of his poems clearly indicates, Sound is of primary concern to his work. This is in terms of the physical fact of seeing words on the printed page along with the expectant embodiment of words as spoken and/or thought.

there    not there

the same

In the measure taken up by words, in words, as Phillips lines them on the page, Meaning, as such, remains ever intended, ever elusive.

someone else
we don't know is
looking for

Although Phillips acknowledges he would, "Look inside / each word" seeking to have it be possible (by way of "hope") that the poem be "an / actual thing / to touch, grasp // hold onto," he's well aware that it's a matter of "trust" that a word will ever be "where it says / it is." Yet as he readily admits:

But I wonder
how alive
can be

Phillips remains wary, acknowledging "language is / using us."

Often these poems are but an initial probing towards the real, everyday reality. Practicing a phenomenological game which offers no promises, Phillips would rather deal with what he does not know. He's more confident in the act of attempting at understanding the situation of writing than he is basking in prideful display of certainties.

When the path I was on disappeared
I knew that was the path to follow

This is the practice of a poetry based upon the testing of balances and such observations which inevitably leads to an inevitable thicket of further questions. To follow this line of poetic reasoning is to arrive at a state of consequential perplexity.

The room
we are in
is not the same
room for each
of us    here

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.

"Look, the sky's still there." As though it would not be? Phillips rides his poems hard, bearing down on them with the full weight of a disciplined mind unwilling to let any errant remark off easy.

To talk think-
ing talk

Like hell it does. Phillips throws us back on our heels and leaves us there, balanced until we stumble. Ridiculous creatures, we believe ourselves to be ruling over the means of communication, let alone the means of survival. All we can do is go on, using and re-using the tools at our disposal. Hoping we manage to gain some further perspective. Searching for answers, while all the while "that which is / not meant to // last" leads us on.

. . .