book coverWanting to start a new book and nervous about it being fiction, I went for some nonfiction instead. I picked up a little book I bought at the Twin Cities Book Festival back in October last year, The Art of Daring: Risk, Restlessness, Imagination by Carl Phillips. The book is part of a series put out by local indie publisher Graywolf that focuses on the “art of craft and criticism” according to the series description.

After reading the first chapter I am really impressed and excited and all kinds of happy. I did not know who Carl Phillips was. It turns out he is a poet. His thesis for the book is that restlessness is key to imagination and that imagination must take risks in order to create art. To forward his argument, Phillips analyzes poems. So far the poems he has chosen have been amazing from Louise Bogan to Shakespeare to W.S. Merwin.

In the first chapter Phillips talks about our need to create and make and he suggests this need is a result of our awareness of our mortality as well as wanting answers:

I think it’s largely the conundrum of being human that makes us keep making. I think it has something to do with revision — how, not only is the world in constant revision, but each of us is, as well. Each new experience at some level becomes a part of that lens through which we see — as in understand — the world we pass through.

Even though we keep revising, we are unable to find definite solutions. It is the tension between wanting closure and never being able to truly have it that creates what he calls resonance in a poem. If a poem has resonance, Phillips considers it successful. He understands resonance is frustrating for a reader. We want answers. We want experience to be translated for us. But what a good poem does is

transform experience so that our assumption about a given experience can be disturbed and, accordingly, our thinking about that experience might be at once made more complicated, deeper, richer.

Poetry is not meant to make readers feel better but to help us understand human experience in a way that leads to wisdom instead of the shallowness of simply feeling good.

It is a thought -provoking chapter and I fear I have not adequately conveyed Phillips’ argument. Perhaps as I continue through the book and tell you more about it I will get better at relaying the drift of his thoughts. I am eagerly looking forward to reading more of this little gem and it is making me excited about the other books in the series of which I have one other. Stay tuned!

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