Rowan Ricardo Phillips, whose debut book of poetry, The Ground, published this week, recently sat down with fellow FSG poet Lawrence Joseph. We’re happy to share with you their remarkable discussion on the craft, translation, mythmaking, and–of course–Phillips’ stunning new work.
Lawrence Joseph: First of all, I want to say how much I like this book. In fact, I think it’s a masterpiece. Why the title The Ground?
Rowan Ricardo Phillips: Good morning… and thank you! As opposed to “the land” or “the floor” or “where you are” or “the street”, there’s something feral, archaic, and really part from ourselves in “the ground”. It’s the word we often relate with the ceremonial end of our physical selves—we’re buried, we tend to say, in the ground—and yet it also inhabits, in our English language at least, a point of progression: we build on things, and on ourselves, from the ground up. If you replace “ground” with “earth” in those two phrases they become too self-conscious and overly willful. Similarly, “the land” is a word almost entirely self-conscious of ownership and power. For example, switch “land” with “ground” in Frost’s “The Gift Outright” and you have a different poet. I should point out that none of these aforementioned words were candidates for the title of the book. The Ground came to me instinctively as I was working on through the poems. It was as insistent, like a pulse, and I wanted to capture the feel of that in the entire book, the way the ground pulsed in my imagination as I wrote. As you read through the book I’m hoping you feel the pulse of the ground in it, both as concept and character. It’s incredibly important for a poet to recognize and come to terms with his or her temperament—I can’t stress that enough—and my temperament left me not wanting to have a titular poem in the book. That’s not me. A representative poem for the book—that wasn’t where The Ground was heading; I could feel that strongly even in its earliest moments and movements. (more…)