Section: archive

Poet, translator sponsored by lit festival to speak tomorrow

By Emily Sakamoto

Rowan Ricardo Phillips isn’t your average poet, professor and translator.

As a part of the Kenyon Review Literary Festival, Phillips, whose work has been published in the Review, will read poems from his newest collection as well as his recently published book of poems, The Ground, on Nov. 8 at 7:30 p.m. in Peirce Lounge.

Having lived half of his life in Barcelona, Phillips declared his support of soccer to be a very important part of himself, as well as his attachment to his wife and two-year-old daughter and his appreciation for contemporary art.

“You have to find other things that keep you alive,” Phillips said when asked what he does besides teach and write.

Phillips expressed the parallels between Kenyon and his alma matter, Swarthmore College.

“I imagine Kenyon is probably very similar,” he said. “I love small liberal arts colleges ラ it’s where I grew up and learned to stay too long in the library, until they kick you out.”

In anticipation of his reading, Phillips said that he has a relative idea of what to expect come Friday.

“I’m going to probably read from The Ground, which I published last year. ナ [It will also be] a kind of first date with some of my new poems to see how they sound. It’s really important to hear them aloud and see how they behave.”

One can expect a compilation of poems about New York as well as about heaven and paradise at the reading.

One of his pieces printed in the Kenyon Review and online in Poetry Daily eventually became the last chapter of his popular book of poems from which he plans to read.

While he is currently an associate professor of English at SUNY Stony Brook, Phillips, who has taught at institutions like Harvard and Columbia Universities, specializes in poetry.

“I teach almost entirely poetry,” Phillips said. “I also teach creative writing classes ナ I make a point of having my students translate ナ they always love it. It introduces them to something they thought they couldn’t do.”

Translation for Phillips has become a way for students, and himself, to see the medium in a different light. Jokingly, Phillips said, “Because a poem is just nonsense, right?”

In addition to instructing in poetry, Phillips introduces topics such as Dante’s Inferno into his syllabus.

Phillips’ dedication to poetry is immense.

“I live by the syllable. I find myself thinking line by line. The idea of a book as a collection of poetry is the last thing I think about, but it kind of weaves together on its own.”

While some may think writing a collection of poetry is an easier feat than a continuous fiction novel or the like, this isn’t always the case.

“It’s like [being] a director in the cutting room,” Phillips said. “You have to be stringent about what goes in and what goes out. I want every book to sound like me, whatever I sound like. That’s what a book is, it’s an act, an act of finding. You have to have a sense of what you found that fits.”

But as a professor, the conversational and mental connection between pupil and professor is of definite interest to him.

“[English] teaches you critical thinking, history of feelings and thoughts and emotions,” he said. “It’s only with your English professor that you reach that point of connection. ナ We need to be empathetic, we need to think about things from the other side. You can’t get that from economics, from biology.”

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