Contributor Spotlight: Philip Metres

Philip Metres’s poems “Ode to Her Belly” and “Is This History”, as well as his translation of Grigori Shuvalov’s “Prison Parcel Office” are featured in Issue 75 of the Bellingham Review

What would you like to share with our readers about the work you contributed to the Bellingham Review?

“Ode to Her Belly” was inspired by feeling the thick rind of my wife’s belly the first time she was pregnant. The poem’s gestation has been longer than our first daughter’s, however. I started this poem about 15 years ago, and only now is it being born.

“Is This History” is a poem that began from something I overheard in the hallway, when a student was looking for the History Department. But it rhymed with that strange feeling I have now and then that time is so enveloped in itself, that we can’t settle into the present without the past and future always knocking on the door.

“Prison Parcel Office” is a translation of a poem by the Russian poet Grigori Shuvalov that I did with my friend, Dimitri Psurtsev, a biting commentary on the carceral aspects of contemporary Russian life, where the whole society has taken on the feel of a prison.

Tell us about your writing life.

I’ve been writing seriously for thirty years, and I hope that I’m more patient with myself and the process of unfolding that writing requires. When I was younger (and still, sometimes, now), I was so eager to complete a poem, to show it off to the world. Now I hold onto a piece of writing longer, letting it grow into itself, to let it fledge its wings first.

Which non-writing aspect(s) of your life most influences your writing?

Ideally, the writer is one upon whom nothing is lost, as Henry James once said. We are the antennae of the world. Obviously, something happens in the soul that seeks an echo. When the echo is heard, the poem begins.

What writing advice has stayed with you?

Revision is where you show your courage and you let go of your ego, your need to control the meaning of the poem. Revise toward where the poem is going, not what you wanted it to be.

What is your favorite book (or essay, poem, short story)? Favorite writer(s)?

In terms of prose, Anton Chekhov—his persistent humanness, his portraits of the struggle of the human being against the confines of existence—has become more and more important to me. In terms of poetry, I hope that I’ve metabolized the ecstasy of Rumi and Whitman, the soul fire of Isaiah, the extremity of Dickinson, the muscular music of Donne and Gerard Manley Hopkins, the foundational nationalism (and universalism) of Yeats and Darwish, the pulsing erudition of Robert Lowell, the beautiful solidarity of Muriel Rukeyser, the verve of Frank O’Hara, the moral ferocity of June Jordan, the damaged grandeur of Sergey Gandlevsky, and the serious playfulness of Lev Rubinstein.

What are you reading right now?

I have a stack of books at my bedside that I’m trying to move into: Reginald Dwayne Betts’ A Question of Freedom, Letter from Palestine, by Suzanne Gardinier, Calling a Wolf a Wolf by Kaveh Akbar, among others.

What project(s) are you working on now, or next?

I’m working on a few different book projects, each of them tapping me in the middle of the night, or at odd hours of the day: The Flaming Hair of Fate, a memoir about living in Russia and touring the U.S. with the poet Sergey Gandlevsky; Shrapnel Maps, a book of poems writing through the question of Israel-Palestine; The Sound of Listening, a collection of essays forthcoming from University of Michigan in 2018; The Drunk Projectionist, a book of translations of Russian poet Sergey Gandlevsky, and a new book of poems that I’ve been thinking of calling Returning to the City of Love, because after writing so much about trauma and violence, I’ve been trying to write about and with love. The poems “Ode to Her Belly” and “Is This History” would be part of that City of Love.

Anything else our readers might want to know about you?

I’ve coached girls basketball for the past four years (both my daughters’ teams), passing on all the tricks I learned over forty years of playing the game. The basketball court has been a place for me to hide inside my body, and let my mind take a break.

Where can our readers connect with you online?, @PhilipMetres,

PHILIP METRES is the author of Pictures at an Exhibition (2016), Sand Opera (2015), I Burned at the Feast: Selected Poems of Arseny Tarkovsky (2015), To See the Earth (2008), and others. His work has garnered a Lannan fellowship, two NEAs, the Hunt Prize, Arts & Letters, two Arab American Book Awards, the Cleveland Arts Prize and a PEN/Heim Translation Fund grant. He is professor of English at John Carroll University in Cleveland.

Featured Image: “moss covered statue” by Tiggrx