Guernica Magazine

Back Draft: Carl Phillips

The inaugural installment of a new series about the revision process in poetry. First up: Carl Phillips. The post Back Draft: Carl Phillips appeared first on Guernica.

Carl Phillips is a poet known for polish. Author of more than a dozen collections, most recently Wild Is the Wind (FSG, 2018), he produces lyrics of finely-shaped syntax and exceptional command.

Reading his poetry, I’ve often wondered about his process. How does he achieve such refinement on the page? He agreed to share with me two drafts, so we could get a peek into how he edits. Our hour-long phone conversation focused on revision, as well as Eden, military bases, and his “pagan life.”

Ben Purkert for Guernica

Guernica: Your final draft is half as long. Is this typical for you? Do you see revision as a kind of distillation?

I think writing itself is, from the start, distillation. When I write, I’m trying to distill how I need to say a thing down to the fewest and most necessary words. Usually, that has happened by the time I get to a draft, that is, it isn’t typical for me to have a draft this long that gets cut down to half its length. I suppose the original

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