Robert (Schaeffer) Phillips James Finn Cotter - Essay

James Finn Cotter

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

If the measure of a poet is, as Keats thought, the ability to give up self and become other beings, then Robert Phillips is as close to being a poet as anyone writing today. Not birds and clouds, but giraffes and crabs are the subject of his metamorphoses, and his quest is more classical than romantic. In his third collection of poems, Running on Empty, Phillips explores the sensations of being the other (even the child once oneself) by dramatizing the experience of both losing a sense of the ego and filling the void. The title poem describes the process by a perfect allegory: a teen-ager's defiant ability to drive with the fuel gauge reading empty and below, "riding on nothing but fumes."

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(The entire section is 488 words.)