These notes are part of my “read 100 poetry books in 12-ish months” effort. Far from an official review, they represent first impressions and provide some context for what I brought to the reading of the text.
11 of 100: Groundspeed by Emilia Phillips (2016, University of Akron Press)
Quick, personal thoughts:
- Reading Groundspeed, I took note of how Phillips’ narrator refuses to let her own traumas (in this case her own cancer or the death of a half brother) carry any more weight in the collection than the tragic events and lives around her. Our suffering truly is ordinary, and in treating it as such, Groundspeed mimics for us what life is actually like: one long road trip, hotel overnights and stops at home, all interspersed with encounters we have, dramas large and small, our own and everyone else’s. My tendency in my own work — including when I’ve put manuscripts together — is to visit my obsessions (distance, intimacy, romance, etc.) far too often. I learn from this book that our obsessions/favorite themes carry a little more weight when they don’t tag along in every… single… poem. I’m grateful for this model.
- I love how Phillips creates scenery from ordinary observations, as though the poems are movies. As pseudo- short films, the poems in Groundspeed celebrate “the glories of their mundane” (a line from one of the poems) as they include beer cans, chewing gum, pollen in the ditch, etc.
- In a contributor spotlight in Memorious, Phillips says, “For years I’ve been seduced again and again by two lines of Fanny Howe: ‘My vagabondage is unlonelied by poems.’ In some ways, this statement has become a kind of mantra for me, especially in difficult times. ‘My vagabondage / is unlonelied by poems.’ Not only does it recognize the loneliness of one’s life in that word ‘vagabondage,’ it also speaks to the restlessness I’ve felt my whole life—this draw to move from one place, physical or otherwise, to another.” Howe’s phrase will stick with me, along with Phillips’ mention of it. Unlonelied by poems. Amen.
Lines I want to remember:
- “Let’s say we know each other’s pain and can sing along // with it like an old song. Let’s say there’s only one pain / performance but different seats in the auditorium.”
- “I looked through an open door, second from the end; inside, a shirtless man with Mansonesque beard and hair danced in front of the television rabbit-eared to the news.”
- “I wish it wasn’t easy / for the body to think I’ve suffered / because I sweat in front of a gym TV / on which St. Louis police / draw on another young man. … I’m running / from no one.”
- “Once, everything / we couldn’t understand was made through similes / of nature. Now the trees look like telephone / poles. A wingspan, a hanging up receiver.”
- “A body / can, like a sympathetic string, ring with another’s / peril.”
- “The smoke / was like a great chain // that held the sky to the earth.”
- “It must be someone’s job // to pop the heads on Christ bobbles / on the line, to pour light into a mold // and smoke an American Spirit / on lunch and believe // in a union. Every faith is looking for / something too big to see. The common // names of our common demons are Kinked- / Waterhose and Gnat-Up-the-Nose, …”
- “My husband // guides me by his hands / on my / hips like a window- / dresser wheeling a mannequin / into sunlight, toward its reflection.”
What others have said:
- Rain Taxi: “What we know, we know because we have been wounded. And we have the memory of that experience as well as the scar to remind us, whereas the symbolism of the doves stays lodged beneath the surface “like buckshot.” Like Phillips’s speaker, we have to choose to face the experiences and ourselves.”
- Memorious: “This collection takes to the road through trauma, grief, and memory while offering a means of preservation. … [It] brings you to the edge of the earth and asks you to keep going. But even within these moments of movement and return, there is a quiet searching for the self, for strength beyond grief and loss. Through intensely beautiful—and occasionally grotesque—images and language, Phillips stills for an instant life’s relentless journey forward.”
- Kathleen Graber on the book’s back cover: “Emilia Phillips gives us a world that refuses to be stilled. Exploring the blurred boundaries of a cartographer’s spinning globe, Groundspeed offers a dynamic exploration of the liminal physical and psychological landscapes in which our tentative and transient identifies flicker. … These wide-ranging, muscular poems are as much a stop action study of our present, complex political and social moment as they are a primal record of what it means to be mortal, to be a body and soul capable of tremendous pleasure, love, grief, fear and pain.”
Where some of the poems from this collection live online:
- The Episode of Cops in Which My Father Appears & Roadside America
- YouTube: Dog Eating a Human Leg on the Ganges
- Three of the “Pastoral” poems
Have you read this collection? If so, let me know your thoughts in the comments!