This month’s episode of the Sewanee Review Podcast finds poet Phillip B. Williams in conversation with our managing editor Eric Smith about the present moment in American poetry and how archival work can be personal and intimate. Williams delves into how he brought himself back to poetry after a hiatus, and how that informed his newest collection: Mutiny.
To begin, Williams explains how Mutiny explores craft, imagistic convention, and Black anger, with the discussion reaching toward the preservation of the work of poetic mentors and forebearers. But the heart of their conversation revolves around privilege and suffering: “One is a complaint, and the other one is sometimes a plea: let us live. And there’s this weird way they become convoluted. They’re not equal. They’re not the same. And it’s usually from folks who have no idea what suffering is.” Yet Williams stresses that this conflict often obscures the vivid stylistic skill of so many Black poets. When he says, “Their craft doesn’t reflect their idea of what craft is,” he asserts that craft and identity inform each other in such a way that the exclusion of either in a conversation about poetry perpetuate white, masculine frameworks.
Phillip B. Williams is from Chicago. He is the author of the books Mutiny (Penguin 2021) and Thief in the Interior (Alice James Books 2016). Williams has received a 2017 Whiting Award and the 2017 Kate Tufts Discovery Award. He currently teaches at Bennington College and is a member of the founding faculty for the Randolph College low-residency MFA program in creative writing.
The Sewanee Review Podcast is recorded in the Ralston Listening Room at the University of the South. This episode is produced by Carlos Zayas-Pons and edited by ProPodcast Solutions with music by Annie Bowers. Don’t miss any of our conversations with some of today’s best writers. Subscribe to the Sewanee Review Podcast on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.