Holy crap! If you're a writer, this is the book on writing you've always wanted written: not on craft, but on the forces involved in the creative act, our convergent and divergent desires and drives, and our attempts to resolve inner life with the world. Phillips is a poet, but all writers should read it.
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.
About the Author
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
“A beautiful collection of essays. . . . Phillips’s reflections are as much about his personal development as they are a peek behind the curtain for budding writers, who will find a fair share of solid guidance. . . . This pensive account of the writing life delivers.”—Publishers Weekly
“With the wisdom of experience and refreshing candor, Phillips offers seven cornerstones for living as a writer. . . . The book is rich with Phillips’ expert lyric ear . . . a lovely, loving letter to aspiring writers.”—Diego Báez, Booklist
“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