Robert Philbin


In the eyes of the goat we discover 
an apartment overlooking the sea 
not far from Barcelona. Like drawing
water from an ancient well not far 
from here, or to walk through the dream 
of a dying woman who reinvents herself
in your memories. The camera used to be 
my friend, but now I look like my father 
at a bad time in his life. Photographers
don't understand these things; they focus 
on light and shadow, texture and ambience, 
they prefer a good mood to a complex
situation, like 21 grams, the weight they 
say the body looses after death. 
In other words, the weight of the human
soul. The human brain weighs 1.5 kilograms, 
but I prefer to write while listening 
to the music of Arvo Pärt. 
*[Italian: affannoso, labored breathing, frantic. Also: Third movement, Symphony No. 4 "Los Angeles," 2010, by Arvo Pärt]



We were all crazy with life because 
we were born for a reason. The world 
has a screw loose and we know it. 
One voice, amplified in public discourse,
how does it feel to make little things? 
People applaud. Madness is creative, something 
contagious at the blue nexus of memory. 
A perfect sky near the sea. The smell of tar 
and salt vegetation drifting in the backwater.
Clatter of reed stalks in moonlight, 
the arrival of fall. The first chill of sand
beneath your bare toes. An animal sound
behind the dune. No lunch today, no time
to consider the accordion or Athens.
Maybe a work out, then a cup of green tea.


[La Colifata, a cult of 'crazy people' who recite poetry.]


Imagine some perfect state where the mind
invents its own artifacts and time resists
every temptation to bend the willow branch
above the river. We have become what we
feared most — slow, lethargic champions
of the river bend below Natchez in late
summer. The water rising takes it all away.
They sing on the radio, my car speeds beneath
a relentless Mississippi sun that surrenders
nothing we haven’t read about before.
Mourning becomes another highway off
the river bank, in the shade of memory.
And deeper, you must go deeper into
the core of meaning itself, taking words
away from every opening in the mind,
like a bird, capturing the up current, climbs
altitudes never flown above water before.
from spoken diaries:

To find a voice and then lose it. 
Always losing it in something else, 
a book on the windowsill, 
a girl in shorts and rubber boots
in a book store, a goofy man 
with a blue hat, a sleeping baby 
with a fat belly. The voice 
comes and goes like age, like
a reflection in a store window, 
fleeting, never quite you, this 
voice echoing in space between 
your active brain and the you
activating that brain. Your voice
filled with secrets and drama, 
true and unusual observations, 
the entire cosmos in a single

syllable, a logarithm, a smile.
A voice that remains yours and like
no other anywhere, ever again.



Time to go to the gym and workout. 
Work up a sweat in the big room, 
slide through the mind's sea, 
check out the football games 
and the young girls searching
for whatever is missing 
in their lives among the barbells 
and mirrors. It's in the mirror 
somewhere. They are sure of it. 
To write with the lightness
of Frank O'Hara would be a good thing, 
pleasant even, here, in the book shop 
filled with another fall day. 
If there is such a thing as peace 
it doesn't exist in the window mirror
where John Ashbery lives in a corner.
'To isolate the kernel of our imbalance
and at the same time back up carefully.' 
Breakfast was good enough, though, 
the coffee strong, a hint of pumpkin
on the pallet. A morning of writing well. 
Even if this place feels hostile to bird houses.


New York City

Slavery to the task never ended 
even as another day unwinds 
in procrastination and that italian
pinot noire which reminds me of Humphrey 
Bogart in the rain with that swedish
actress whose daughter married Scorsese
and then David Lynch or was it the other 
way around while Bogart did his best
work with Huston who did his best work
at the battle of San Pietro but what do 
I know and then this girl from the armory
show introduced me to a banker who insisted
on levitating on wall street but jumped into 
the open air parking lot instead, he's dead
and no one gives a shit because he hit the bricks 

and almost damaged a bmw parked outside 
my favorite bakery not far from the sea every
poem traces for reality, makes up statuary 

and malingering coffee rings and flounderings; 
we do not want to give up life so easily each
of us seeing as we do the possibility of any  history

a context where Gauguin discovers the future 
in a table cloth I prefer the beach in autumn
when waves begin to modulate color and the shore
adjusts its natural line gathering up the wind 
the way it does in traces which the sea erases:
I don't trust the sky, it moves so quickly and some
people enjoy sex in public places 
the adventure of it, opposed to the need
which has shifted to performance, an intrusion
of the exhibition on a passerby which becomes 
an acceptance of chaos beneath the concrete, 
or the dyonisian just below the geraniums.

[After attending the funeral of a friend, a suicide.]


Unpublished Interview

Q/A  Bob Philbin and Anne Sheridan

A: Who are you reading these days, Bob?

B: Gilles DeLeuze, Keith Richards, Patti Smith and a french poet named Philippe Beck, very interesting. There's not much Beck available in English, but I think he's on to something, in terms of what poetry -- or poiesis in the original sense of turning the material world into something comprehendible -- means. He sees poetry as a history of thought. I'm comfortable with that because everything I write lately is about following thought, rooted in emotion, as it becomes "materialized" so to speak in syntax and language. I don't write about things, I trace thought in the brain traveling through time. This includes memory, the present, facts, artifacts, imaginings, and so forth. I think Beck is also operating in this domain at least theoretically. 

A: Isn't the material world by definition "comprehendible"?

B: Yes, perhaps, you mean in terms of science, philosophy, art? We agree upon certain definitions, yes.

A:  Yes.

B: Right, well all of those are incomplete approaches to understanding the universe, you know; things, knowledge changes all the time. There are limits to empirical knowledge, it's quite slow and tedious. Philosophy is hard going, I mean you have to be very careful, very rational and ethical; and art intuits, you know, it is knowledge based on science and philosophy, plus the humane gesture that goes beyond that knowledge. 

A:  There are certain rules, aren't there. You know, like say gravity.

B: Sure, sure, but even gravity, as Newton explained it, was made relative by Einstein; you know relative to the Earth's atmosphere. You go so far outside the gravitation pull of the surface of the earth, and gravity disappears. Newton didn't know that, but we do. So these approaches to knowledge are also relative to some particular paradigm of knowledge in history. We are exploding with knowledge today.  So we expect this knowledge to be put to use in political realities. We become irritated when that process doesn't happen. Student riot, for example, when they are made the fool of economic cost cuts; while bankers and financial crooks benefit from public largesse through political chicanery. So yes, there are rules, and then there is the instinctively humane. 

A: And you see poetry involved in this process of expanding knowledge?

B: Absolutely. I mean, the humane -- the most advanced bundle of humanity contained in our DNA -- emerges at is clearest, most necessary form, through art and particularly through the faculty of language-based art.

A: Why is that, do you think?

B: It's the most intimate and yet intellectual art form. Human thought as traced in a poem replicates the poet's discovery of the innately humane in the reader's mind. Everybody benefits. Pretty good stuff, really. We live in times of anarchy, the need for anarchy to question rules particularly politically.

A: What do you mean by "humane"?

B: The innocent comprehension of the universe, like the way a child perceives reality, with wonder deeply rooted in a very ethical, highly selected network of moral engagement. The artist's job is to discover and move the innately "humane" into the wider world of human knowledge. 

Copyright ©  Robert Philbin
Robert Philbin is an American writer and featured poet in January 2011 Contemporary American Voices, Journal of Poetry.