Zoë's Reviews > Double Shadow

Double Shadow by Carl Phillips
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Apr 23, 2011

bookshelves: review-copy, poetry
Read on April 03, 2011

Double Shadow is the eleventh collection of poetry by Carl Phillips, although the first that I have read. The title refers to the duality of life, the double shadow it casts, the contrasting worlds a single moment can create. The collection also deals strongly with the theme of loss and grief. In "Next Stop, Arcadia", Phillips ends with the question, "which is better? It's hard to decide: / the ugliness of weeping, or the tears themselves?", an example of the conflict, both external and internal, present through Double Shadow.

"The Need for Dreaming" begins with the lines:

"As a scar commemorates what happened,
so is memory itself but a scar."

These are the subjects present in Phillips' writing, nothing is quite as it seems, a scar that is not just a scar. Rather, it is an emptiness he "can't stop collecting", "the strewn shells/of spent ammunition where I come across them;/ carefully, I hold each up toward what's left of the light." The brokenness of humanity comes across again in the poem "Night" where Phillips writes:

"But by then, it was morning again.
We could see what it was to be at last forsaken-
not so much by others, as by what we'd come to
think of as our better selves,"

and later, in the same poem:

"The restless choir
that any human life can be, sometimes, casts forth
all over again its double shadow: now risk, and now
faintheartedness- we're not what
either of us expected,
are we?- each one a form of disembodiment,
without the other."

The line "we're not what/ either of us expected/are we?" reminds the reader how easy it is to become something else. The main theme at the centre of Double Shadow is epitomized in the poem "On Horseback", in which Phillips writes, "At/ once both a thing that blinds and a form of blindness." In "Of The Rippling Surface", Phillips begins:

"The dragonsflies are only the first thing. How they're
not what you think, or thought you would."

reminding the reader of yet another thing which we think is something other than what it is. This related to both our emotions and physical objects which we imbue with our own feelings. Our perception of what something is and what it actually may stand in stark contrast to each other, but neither one is false. In "My Bluest Shirt", Phillips ends with the line "Now I touch at once both everything and nothing." which seems to be what he has attempted with this collection. The poems in Double Shadow are fragile pieces, verging on fragments at times. The writing is sparse but haunting, and when it succeeds it leaves the reader in precarious position, doubting if what we thought was one thing was in fact something else.
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