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This review is taken from PN Review 260, Volume 47 Number 6, July - August 2021.

Cover of The Failure of the Moment
Kate Caoimhe ArthurThe Failure of the Moment
Living Weapon, Rowan Ricardo Phillips (Faber) £10.99
Should poetry respond to current crises, or is its job always best practised in the long gaze backwards? It is a surprise to find here poems about coronavirus bereavement (‘Prelude’), the death of George Floyd (‘Screens’), and Brexit (number three of the ‘Trinidadian Triptych’). But the third installation of Rowan Ricardo Phillips’s trilogy (preceded by The Ground (2012) and Heaven (2015) is in conversation with a vast cast of historic forebears who enliven Phillips’s examination of the meaning, morality and musicality of poetry, his ‘living weapon’. Wordsworth, Donne, Heaney, Elizabeth Bishop, Arvo Pärt, Orpheus and Milton all step in to commend, argue with or bear witness to Phillips’s meditations, and he is an eloquent and persuasive converser.

At the heart of the collection, and among its most delicious mouthfuls, is a scattering of sonnets. They display deft sonic footwork: rhyme is repeated and modulated by the gear-change of internal vowel-
sounds, sending the poem off in a subtly different direction. ‘[T]he first fissions / Finally arriving at the listener, / Who makes sense of it sooner or later’ (‘The Peacock’). ‘Night of the Election’ describes the moment in the 2016 American election when ‘A sad irrelevance [was] now relevant’ and its immediate effect on language: ‘The words became a thing looked at, not read.’ He invokes ‘Seamus Heaney’s poem’, at first assumed to be ‘The Cure at Troy’; the failure of the moment is the failure to make hope and history rhyme. Instead:

In the poems place an oyster
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