African-American Poets, Volume 2, New Edition (Bloom's by Harold Bloom

By Harold Bloom

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32 Max W. Thomas Phillips, too, models desire, and not through lack. Here, it’s more a matter of repetition, as in “The Fountain”: ╇╇╇ Crests. ╇ And Falls. ╇╇╇ We’re here, again. ╇╇╇╇╇╇ We’re ╇ at the beach. ╇╇╇ You’re where you’ve been, the water. You leave the water. The water leaves your body like what knows it can afford to, at last. ”). Only in this landscape does the sea, normally so contained in its bed, go cruising, unbuckling itself. So often an image of what-is-longed-for, here the sea itself longs, not to be filled but to overflow.

The world has resisted thought so long, the youth of trees concealed. (“The History of His Body”) The world is the world, but it bears in it the forces of the elements and the traces of gods. Only by looking aslant, by looking “wrong,” by transvaluing the almost archaic qualities of poetry’s Orphic mysteries, does the full texture of these poems, Phillips’ and Shepherds’ both, fully shine. That is why literal accounts of the events of these poems seem to me to be beside the point: the poems stick to event just enough to point toward this alchemical shadow world, where correspondence matters almost more than objecthood, where signs are not symbols but spurs: ╇ The gods are far, we’re told.

Marlowe’s model of desire is of the infinite brink: Hero and Leander keep thinking they’ve exhausted themselves only to find even more pleasant things to do to each other; even Neptune finds pleasure, rather than Petrarchan woe, in Leander’s unattainability. Phillips and Shepherd both write about sex too, beautifully, perversely, arousingly, lyrically, bluntly, frequently. That’s part of the genius of Phillips’ title and collection: he writes a poetry in which sex between men is the ordinary, even classical, state of affairs, one in which it is entirely more remarkable to think about a stag in the woods than an erection.

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