Professor Patrick Phillips saw one of his poems displayed throughout New York City’s transit system, and another published in New York Times Magazine.
It’s fair to say most poets toil in anonymity, but not Patrick Phillips, at least not last winter. That’s when Phillips, an associate professor of English, had one of his poems displayed on New York City subways, buses and taxis. The five-stanza, 10-line poem, “Heaven,” was chosen by the Poetry Society of America for the New York MTA’s Poetry in Motion program, part of an initiative that showcases poetry on public transit subways and buses in more than 20 cities nationwide. The designation earned Phillips what he calls “surely my biggest audience ever.” Phillips, who grew up in Georgia, has taught at Drew since 2007. He says he tries to teach his students to imagine some of what’s going on beneath the surface of other people’s lives. “Reading is about empathy,” he says. “That’s as good as it gets, as far as I’m concerned.” As for writing poetry, Phillips says for him the act doesn’t actually involve much writing. In fact, he says, “I find composing pretty excruciating.” He says his writing process largely involves “finding scraps and things on envelopes, files I dashed onto my hard drive and old abandoned poems. I begin my writing day with a kind of rummaging.” “Heaven” was included in Phillips’ second collection of poems, Boy, published in 2008 by the University of Georgia Press. A third collection, Elegy for a Broken Machine (Alfred A. Knopf), was published in March. As part of the Poetry in Motion program, “Heaven” also appeared on the small digital screens inside New York City taxis. “Drunken people at 2 a.m. will be trying to turn the screen off,” Phillips says, laughing. —Katharine Reece