Winner of the 2013 T. S. Eliot Prize
Hammering on high ladders and plumbing the Paris catacombs, the poems of Luc Phinney’s debut Compass take us to times and places as familiar as they are strange. These are landscapes of primordial language and of the everyday origins of fatherhood; of the urban and the wild, and of the human act of making. In the modern, tangled world these poems travel, but they always orbit home. This prize-winning collection is rigorous, experimental, and intimate.
Luc Phinney recalls the ancient notion of poet as maker, for Compass possesses the imagistic substance, auditory sway and verbal materiality of a made thing. Each poem is like an architectural structure whose lines have been measured, leveled and hammered into place, yet for all the hard labor that went into their making, their interior spaces are filled with the spirit of human affection. As tender and open-hearted as it is determined, as intimate and adoring as it is dramatic, Compass forms a wonderfully accomplished addition to contemporary American poetry.
—Sherod Santos, 2013 T. S. Eliot Prize judge
Luc Phinney’s first collection of poems, Compass, has the savvy of a man who understands landscapes in all their dimensions. He feels the stories in place and along the ground; his poems have blood and bulk and the delicacy of a sweeping wind. Compass is an original thing and I am sure readers will welcome this herald of a fine new poet on the scene.
— Dave Smith
Here is a book that celebrates the work of making. Walking a woman home and thinking of love, throwing a pot on a wheel, building a house with his hands, raising a child, speaking to us in poems, Phinney knows the work of making is pleasure. He sings and dreams in lush exact terms. He has made something useful. Here is a smart and joyful book.
— Steve Scafidi
Luc Phinney’s poems give us the heavenly vertigo of falling stars, falling rain, falling into sleep, falling in love. The music of that falling spills down his sentences, down stanzas and beyond into the next and the next. Yet this sensual and thoughtful poet knows where he’s going, as if he were possessed of the compass of his title. How does he do it? Let the reader simply revel in the song. As Phinney writes, “What bird / doesn’t cease on the chaise of the analyst?”
— Mary Jo Salter