An invaluable companion for any writer seeking to make the writing life a more complex and cooperative venture
“Illuminating, deeply endearing essays.”—Ron Charles, Washington Post
“A lovely, loving letter to aspiring writers.”—Diego Báez, Booklist
In these intimate and eloquent meditations, the award-winning poet Carl Phillips shares lessons he has learned about the writing life, an “apprenticeship to what can never fully be mastered.” Drawing on forty years of teaching and mentoring emerging writers, he weaves his experiences as a poet with the necessary survival skills, including ambition, stamina, silence, politics, practice, audience, and community.
In the tradition of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet, and Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations, this is an invaluable companion for writers at every stage of their journey. Phillips’s book serves as a partner in speculation and an invitation to embrace mystery.
Carl Phillips is the author of sixteen books of poetry. He received the Pulitzer Prize in 2023 for Then the War: And Selected Poems, 2007–2020. His most recent prose book is The Art of Daring: Risk, Restlessness, Imagination. Phillips lives in St. Louis, where he teaches at Washington University.
“A small collection of illuminating, deeply endearing essays about the writing life.”—Ron Charles, Washington Post
“Slender and rewarding, this essay collection finds the American poet embracing the mysteries of his craft, rather than striving to explain them away.”—Hephzibah Anderson, The Observer
“Phillips’s poetry has a coiled elegance of syntax; his distinctive prose shares some of this tension as he grapples with the aesthetic and ethical challenges of his trade” —Rachel Hands, Times Literary Supplement Books of the Year 2023
“If this book was only for poets and writers, it would still be a wonder. But here, Phillips has revealed a map for why and how to pursue anything loved, as welcoming to someone honing a jump shot as a sentence, relevant to the poet and postal worker. More than a craft book, it is a reminder of the restlessness and recklessness that call many of us to keep doing the things we’re drawn to. A book equally rich for the seasoned writer as the novice, and one whose insight will call you to it, again and again.”—Reginald Dwayne Betts
“These meditations are simply extraordinary. With abiding care for the mysteries of creation, bracing wisdom, and fierce honesty, Carl Phillips moves us all closer to ‘the native language of the interior self.’”—Lia Purpura
“How I love the elusive textures of this book. Blurring essay and craft lecture, riff and reflection, My Trade Is Mystery is less a how-to than a meditation on the art. Writing is, first and foremost, a matter of being present, and here, Phillips brings a career’s attention to the subject, not instructing so much as engaging, asking the necessary questions about how to live a life in art.”—David L. Ulin
Sign up to the Yale newsletter for book news, offers, free extracts and more
Strictly Necessary Cookies
Strictly Necessary Cookie should be enabled at all times so that we can save your preferences for cookie settings.
If you disable this cookie, we will not be able to save your preferences. This means that every time you visit this website you will need to enable or disable cookies again.