A Pulitzer Prize–winning poetry collection of “heartbreaking tenderness” (Gerald Stern).
A driven immigrant father; an old poet; Isaac Babel in the author’s dreams: Philip Schultz gives voice to failures in poems that are direct and wry. He evokes other lives, too—family, beaches, dogs, the pleasures of marriage, the terrors of 9/11, New York City in the 1970s (“when nobody got up before noon, wore a suit/or joined anything”)—and a mind struggling with revolutions both interior and exterior. Failure is a superb collection, “full of slashing language, good rhythms [and] surprises” (Norman Mailer).
“Philip Schultz’s poems have long since earned their own place in American poetry. His stylistic trademarks are his great emotional directness and his intelligent haranguing—of god, the reader, and himself. He is one of the least affected of American poets, and one of the fiercest.” —Tony Hoagland
The careful, compassionate sixth outing from Schultz (Living in the Past) reverses the plot many poetry books imply. Rather than show an emotional problem (in the first poems) followed by its gradual solution, Schultz begins with warm, even heartwarming, short depictions of love, marriage, fatherhood, and mourning, in which even the elegies find reasons to love life. Schultz addresses the deceased poet David Ignatow: "I didn't go/ to your funeral, but, late at night, I/ bathe in the beautiful ashes of your words." As a reader moves through the volume, and especially in "The Wandering Wingless"- the sequence whose 58 segments and 54 pages conclude the book\-Schultz's gladness gives way to regret and grim fear. Devoted (like several of Schultz's short poems) to the virtues of dogs and of dog-ownership, and to the horrors of September 11, "Wingless" meanders through the poet's own depression and his young adult life before settling on his continuing grief for his unstable, suicidal father. "Why/ did Dad own, believe in,/ admit to, understand/ and love nothing?" It is a question no poet could answer, though Schultz sounds brave, and invites sympathy, as he tries. The clear, even flat, free verse suggests Philip Booth, though Schultz's Jewish immigrant heritage, and his attachment to New York City, place him far from Booth's usual rural terrain. Few readers will find his language especially varied or inventive; many, however, could see their own travails in his plainly framed, consistently articulated sorrows and joys.