WU professor nominated for national poetry award
This is his fourth time being nominated for the award.
“Double Shadow: Poems” is Phillips’ 11th published collection of poetry. He was also nominated for his books “Speak Low: Poems,” “The Rest of Love: Poems” and “From the Devotions: Poems” in 2009, 2004 and 1998 respectively.
Although this is not his first nomination, Phillips said he continues to find the recognition flattering.
“Whether you win or not, it’s a nice trip to New York and they certainly take it very seriously,” he said. “In the past, when I’ve been nominated, I’ve always met some really interesting people.”
Phillips, a professor of English in the College of Arts & Sciences, said his book is really a continuation of his previous work, with the most recent book being the latest chapter.
“The book is about the differences between taking chances and being afraid to take chances,” Phillips said.
Phillips said that while he has written about the same theme for a long time, his latest book is different from the others in terms of the structure of the poems.
“The poems are very different in their shape—they’re a lot shorter and more spare,” he said.
Phillips advises that his students not be afraid to take risks. He thinks that they too often come into college with a set plan for their lives that excludes the possibility of risk.
“You go to college and you have this plan of your major and how you think your life will be in the future, but so many things come up that are unexpected,” he said. “Writers are people who take chances and who go out there and live a little unexpectedly. It scares them but in the end they seem grateful.”
Vincent Sherry, professor and English department chair, said much about the quality of the Washington University writing department.
“The consistency of the recognition of his work is clear,” Sherry said. “It’s significant for our creative program, which is very highly ranked, now eighth or ninth in the country, and recognitions like this are a big part of that.”
Phillips is one of the University’s three tenure-stream professors in the writing program, which is considerably small compared to other universities’ programs.
“It’s really quite extraordinary that we’ve attained this ranking—some places will have 15 professors, and we’ve done it with three,” Sherry said.
Sherry credits this success to the “consistency of excellency” that the professors in the program exemplify. In addition to Phillips, the writing program features award-winning poet Mary Jo Bang.
Sherry added that the rising rank of the writing program and the continued recognition of its professors have led the English department to consider creating a writing concentration for English majors, the logical next step in the development of the program.
Phillips said he will not linger on the recognition provided by his nomination, but continue to focus on his current projects.
“As much as it’s nice to be nominated, I think the most important thing is to write the next poem,” he said. “That’s much more important than prizes and winning and losing and all that.”