Common Reader

Then the War: And Selected Poems, 2007-2020, by Carl Phillips

The way an unexpectedly fine idea will sometimes emerge from

what looked on the outside like the mind as usual treading water . . .

“That the Gods Must Rest”

Winner of the 2023 Pulitzer Prize in PoetryThen the War: And Selected Poems features new poems and an extended prose sequence, “Among the Trees,” as well as a selection of poetry from a number of Phillips’ earlier books. Both a retrospective and a prospect of his ongoing concerns, Then the War explores the resources of memory, desire, human fears and connections, natural elements as they reflect and resist human purposes, and the ways these and other preoccupations can be expressed in language, song, and silence. One critic aptly describes Phillips’ work as “contemplative, rich, and troubled,” and here we encounter a witty and incisive intelligence questioning the many ways of making meaning in a contrary and contradictory world, as “moment by moment, any life unfurls.”

One of our most celebrated contemporary poets, Carl Phillips teaches at Washington University in St. Louis. His work has been awarded the Academy of American Poets Prize, the Kingsley Tufts Award, the Jackson Poetry Prize, the Pushcart Prize, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and has twice been a finalist for the National Book Award. Other honors include fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Library of Congress, and the Academy of American Poets, an Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and induction into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In addition to his 16 books of poetry, he has published two collections of critical essays and a translation of Sophocles’s Philoctetes.

“A master class in [Phillips’s] deceptively gentle voice and striking depictions of raw humanity. . . . Every selection provides a portal to this accomplished author’s work. An important milestone in the still flourishing career of a most brilliant poet.”—Booklist

“The poems that open Then the War are extraordinary ecological lyric verse, subtle and transformative.”―The Guardian

“This selected offers admirers of Phillips’s work a chance to revisit his masterful poems, and new readers an opportunity to see the evolution of a vital presence in American poetry. . . . These lyrically rich, insightful poems are full of palpable aching―‘like the rhyme between lost / and most’―and a human urge to understand. This remarkable compendium is a testament to the spirit of Phillips’s work.”―Publishers Weekly

As Sigma Tau Delta approaches its centennial anniversary (1924-2024), its many facets reflect the state of English-related studies: in flux, in transition, flexible, fluid, evolving, tradition and convention absorbing influence and innovation. New subjects, authors and audiences, media, and concern are built upon a foundation of respect for history and the wisdom of predecessors while always in process of revising and renewing them for each succession of students and teachers.

The Centennial Convention will be a good time to reflect on the changes in culture and higher education in particular over these decades. In 1924 when Sigma Tau Delta was founded at Dakota Wesleyan University, the total number of students enrolled in higher education in the US, predominately affluent white men, was a little more than half a million (double the number from a decade before, according to the Higher Education Biennial Survey, 1922-1924 [1926]). Today, that number is over 10.3 million, including a much wider range of the population (though many groups are still woefully underrepresented.)

Published that year were novels by Agatha Christie (Poirot Investigates), Edna Ferber (So Big) E. M. Forster (A Passage to India), Thomas Mann (The Magic Mountain), and Edith Wharton; books of poetry by HD (Hilda Dolittle), A. A. Milne, Pablo Neruda, and W. B. Yeats; plays by Bertolt Brecht, Sean O’Casey (Juno and the Paycock), and Eugene O’Neill (Desire Under the Elms), and nonfiction by W. E. B. DuBois and H. G. Wells—and, ominously, Adolf Hitler (Mein Kampf). Robert Frost received the Pulitzer Prize in poetry for New Hampshire; and Leonard and Virginia Woolf moved their Hogarth Press to their new home in Bloomsbury. Perhaps signifying a transition from modernism to post-modernism, James Baldwin and Truman Capote were born; and Joseph Conrad and Franz Kafka died. We expect that many presentations will explore the myriad ways in which the precursors inform and are transformed by their descendants.

It is appropriate that this Centennial Convention will be celebrated in St. Louis, a crossroads and river confluence, the “gateway to the west,” a meeting ground for Indigenous Nations since before European exploration. We will gather to share our stories, to meet new people and old friends, and to learn new ways of seeing.

Common Reader Convention Awards

Awards of up to $600 will be given at the annual convention for critical essays or other genres of work that deal with the common reader. To be eligible, students select in the submission form that their work is on the Common Reader.