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This review is taken from PN Review 244, Volume 45 Number 2, November - December 2018.

Cover of Wild Is the Wind
Florian GargailloExit Wounds
Carl Phillips, Wild Is the Wind (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), $23

I know death’s
an abstraction, but I prefer
a shape to things, though the shapes
are changeable.
    (‘If You Go Away’)

These lines tell us much about the sort of poetry to be found here, in Carl Phillips’ fourteenth collection. His aim throughout is to take subjects of a metaphysical nature and shape them into sound, image and rhetoric. It comes as little surprise, then, that abstractions populate the book and serve as its chief players. In order of appearance: memory, discipline, morality, honesty, regret, indifference, death, power, history, love, trust, hope, despair, and so on. Sometimes Phillips dresses these up in startling metaphors, as when he dismisses – and thereby evokes – the notion of memory as a ‘mechanical bull’ (‘Wild Is the Wind’).

This approach makes the abstractions livelier than they might be, though as agents they remain oddly passive:

      – So here we are again, one-handedly fingering
         the puckered edges of the exit wounds
         memory leaves behind

Memory here cuts flesh, and shapes that wound by giving it ‘puckered edges’ like lips readied for a kiss. Yet the word ‘memory’ itself gets shuttled all the way down to the third line so that it lands as an afterthought. The verb attached to it is not ‘wounds’, which stands as its own noun, but ‘leaves behind’: a letting-go or a giving-up. Abstractions in this volume are wont to become places: ‘Morality seemed an ignorable wilderness / like ...

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