The Farrar, Straus and Giroux Poetry Blog

April 04, 2013

Rowan Ricardo Phillips: Poet in New York is a "prime example of what a book of poems should strive to be"


Phillips, Rowan Ricardo (c) Sue Kwon
Rowan Ricardo Phillips (c) Sue Kwon

During Federico García Lorca's brief—but unmistakably prolific—residency in New York City, he wrote Poet in New York, one of his most important and beloved books of verse. To celebrate National Poetry Month and the reissue of a newly revised edition of Poet in New York, we asked a handful of city-dwelling poets to share their early encounters with García Lorca.

First up is Rowan Ricardo Phillips, who debuted his own poignant vision of New York City in The Ground:

Poet in New York is the great book of location—in the physical, psychic and ethical sense—of 20th-century poetry. Consider it in an American context and you find it wrestles with geography in ways that Ideas of Order does not; and that its ideas of order and elegance are all but shattered by blunt experience in a manner that Geography III is not. Scathing in its search for something sincere, its vision of Harlem knows no leverage; neither does its sense of sex. You read this great book wishing Lorca had stayed in New York for longer than the nine months that he stayed; that he knew English better than he did; you learn to yearn for the impossible. But you know as well that something vital in Poet of New York would then have been lost: something of its incurably psalmodic confusions and intensely surreal epiphanies.

When I first moved to Barcelona it was with Poet in New York under my arm. The temperament of the book is the temperament I'd always dreamed of transfusing into the body of my own books of poetry: the act of wading, foreign, through the increasingly familiar until both foreign and familiar sound like inadequate signs of life. Poet in New York has always been for me, a poet of New York, a prime example of what a book of poems should strive to be: wild in its discipline and contradictory in its consistency. I may have ended up writing poetry had I not known of Poet in New York, but I definitely would never have become a poet without it.

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