Phil Metres, Poet


– [Voiceover] Little streams
pass’d over their bodies. It descended trembling from
their temples and ribs. The young men float on their backs, their white bellies bulge to the sun, they do not ask who seizes them fast, They do not know who puffs and declines with pendant and bending arch, They do not think whom
they souse with spray. It’s an amazing poem. Isaiah, it says something like, let’s see if I can remember the phrase– Okay, this is it. The Lord God has given
me a well-trained tongue that I might speak to the weary a word that will rouse them. To me, that’s like– When I read that, I thought
that’s what I want to do. That’s like the mission of being a writer, to wake us up to the mystery and miracle of what it means to be alive. You know, there’s that
cliche about heavy metal. You go to a heavy metal concert and the songs are all about
these dark, terrible things, but everyone there is smiling
and having a good time. I think that, in a sense, that’s what’s so beautiful about art is that it takes us to
and articulate some times some really dark things about being human, being alive, and yet does it in a way that helps us navigate our own feelings. (otherworldly sounds) Sand Opera began, in
some sense as a response to everything that happened in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks. (gentle piano music) The sort of perilous, huge reaction, some would say over-reaction, the way in which our
country plunged into this. I suppose, I would argue in retrospect, a kind of madness for some really good reasons. I mean those attacks were horrific. It’s also a deeply visual book. There are diagrams that were drawn by a Yemeni detainee, who is rendered into secret
prisons called black sites. It was a way of
demonstrating the dislocation that’s part of war. There are also some
fingerprints, actually, that were taken from Saddam Hussein when he was captured. The fingerprints are
more or less lifelike, so one of the uncanny
experiences you can have reading the book is not only to see Saddam’s fingerprints, which, as you know, are unique, like all of our fingerprints are, but also to place your
fingers next to his fingers. Now, this is a man who’s
a terribly cruel tyrant and yet also had hands
that were like ours. As the book started getting
closer to being published, I wanted it to be more than an exploration of the heart of darkness, but also to remind myself why it is that we love each other. Why it is that we get up every morning and we take care of children, we take care of ourselves, we try to build a life. The middle of the book
is a series of poems about my daughter, who’s growing up in this milieu, in this time of war, and my astonishment at
her miraculous beauty, just this little person, and my increasing
awareness of her being able to absorb some of these
toxic elements of our time, and trying to hold them off from her as best as possible. For example, I remember
distinctly her saying “What is an amputee? “Is there such a thing
as an orphan?” she says. Such a beautiful question and a sad question at the same time. She can’t imagine a situation in which a child has no parents. Yet she knows now,
because this word exists. (otherworldly music) Both of those things are
very much part of the book. I wanted to look and listen to
these very difficult things, but I also wanted to sing the power and the durability of the human spirit, and listen to that as well. (otherworldly music) I’ve been having a longstanding dialog between my writing and my faith life. (otherworldly music) It’s a sort of ongoing
negotiation process. Frost calls poetry a lover’s
quarrel with the world, and I sort of feel like
I have a lover’s quarrel with the idea of religion, with faith. That we will learn the
awful hunger of God, the nerve-fraying Cry of God, the curdy vomit of God, the soiled swaddle of God. I want to avoid easy truths or dogmatic ideas of what
that might look like, what a Catholic imagination
might look like. If we are made in the
image of the ineffable, in some sense, then we have a lot of work to do. You know, we have a lot
of area to play with. I don’t have any answers really. I just have questions and forms to sort of work those questions through. (gentle orchestral music)

1 thought on “Phil Metres, Poet

  1. It's not surprising to me that Philip ended up being a College University English professor in elementary school which I attended with him the teacher asked what are these three periods of course no one knew what they are except for Philip he was like oh yeah I know what those are those are periods of ellipses

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