Harman writer dazzles crowd with new poetry


Baruch College’s Sidney Harman Writer-in-Residence Program held "A Reading and Conversation” with Rowan Ricardo Phillips, the current writer in residence at Baruch on March 20.

The event, which filled the Asriel and Marie Rachow Conference Room in the Newman Library Building, concentrated on Phillips’ poetry, both past and present. Phillips recited poetry from his award-winning book, Heaven, while also sharing some of his new material that has yet to be published.

Phillips opened the event with his poem titled “Kingdom Come” in which he comments on the unclear distinction between a human perception of a “heaven” and of a “paradise.”

The poem concludes with, “[Heaven] was happy just to be happy / For once, and not an excuse for mayhem”.

Before reciting his poem, “Nature,” Phillips informed the audience that the text is actually spray-painted across an entire building in Cleveland, Ohio, and then teased the audience about the excruciating length of the poem. He then went on to recite the single line that constitutes “Nature,” “This is what I sound like when I’m thinking.”

Phillips then shared his poem, “Washington Mews.” Prior to reciting the work, Phillips explained that he utilized his translation expertise to end his poem with a couplet in Spanish. Focused on the loss of joy when a companion, or possibly a lover, walks away from an established love, Phillips guided the audience through the insignificance of a breakup, the speed of the act itself and the lasting feeling of insignificance that follows. Phillips concluded the poem by playing on the writing of renowned Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, writing, “Puedo escribir los versos más tristes esta noche / Tú la quisiste, y a veces ella también te quiso.” Translated, the couplet means “I can write the saddest verses tonight / You loved her and sometimes she loved you too.”

Phillips, after commenting on his feelings of rejuvenation, pulled out a large stack of computer paper from underneath the podium. “When my poems look like these, I get excited,” Phillips said to the audience.

After shuffling the large stack of paper, Phillips found a small grouping of papers containing some of his new poetry. He read a poem titled “Obsolete Machinery,” which focused on the “Unite the Right” rally that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia,, in 2017.

Phillips read a few newer poems before opening the floor to questions from the audience.

“My best piece of advice for anyone looking to write anything at all is to get comfortable with not being comfortable. I read Dostoevsky on the train ... It’s quite funny, for someone like myself who loves Paris could never work well sitting in a coffee shop,” Phillips said.

Phillips will be judging the Harman Writer-in-Residence Program’s Spring 2018 Poetry Writing Contest. Details about the contest and future events featuring Phillips can be found by emailing the director of the program, Bridgett Davis, at Bridgett.Davis@baruch.cuny.edu.

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