Phillip Neal Tippin lives with his wife and four children on the banks of the Sand Creek in Newton, Kansas, an old railroad town on the Chisholm Trail. It is a prairie place, bounded by wheat fields and flint hills. Along with pursuing his vocation as a dentist, he writes and reads among growing things. Tending to culture at the human scale occupies what margin remains. You may contact Phillip at email@example.com.
Below we present an a brief, but insightful interview with the poet of Ordinary Time.
Poetry is both a difficult medium to master and an unappreciated art-form in our current day. What motivates you to express yourself by this method?
In her essay on the right use of school studies, Simone Weil offers a great deal of help for me in considering this question. She points out that the most important part of intellectual endeavor is in the “realization that prayer consists of attention.” She goes on to make the argument that no matter the outcome of studies regarding grades or solutions, one always ends in a better position as the very act of study allows one to develop the discipline of attention and therefore a mind prepared for prayer. In the same way, I think that poetry lends itself to this goal in the development of attention and the discipline of contemplation with the final aim being prayer.
While it would seem that poetry hardly makes a blip in the general culture (whatever of that remains), I do not think that poetry has really gone away in the least. Rather, music has become the sugar in the sauce which allows often abysmal lyrics to be consumed over and over again. One does not learn attention through this means, but the repetition of the music, in spite of one’s inattention, makes the lyrics present continually to the point they are memorized before (if ever) they are contemplated. This has created within our culture a vast mental repository of lyrics in the place where a more formal poetry once held sway.
Now, however, through poetry, both in its writing and reading, I begin at the level of the student to grow in this attention of which Weil writes. I desire to place myself under masters who did not have the high fructose corn syrup of Vulfpeck to make their lines sing. I desire that a labor in attention will lead to writing and sharing poetry which may train one toward prayer.
Not better but mending,
(Epigrams, Series 3)
In your opinion, what place does poetry play in our culture? What is its role?
Poetry (outside of lyrics) doesn’t seem to play much of a role at all except as something very precious or rare to be discovered, a pearl of great price in a jaded field or a vein of gold in the darkest cave. In this role, poetry seems to offer at least three glimmering correctives to our culture for those who find poetry hidden among the rubble:
1. As Malcolm Guite has emphasized, poetry is invaluable in helping to reveal the imagination as a truth bearing faculty. This opens back up many possibilities that have been closed by scientism and the technocratic single vision.
2. Poems and poetry certainly can serve as “Charm’d magic casements, opening on the foam of perilous seas, in fairy lands forlorn” as Keats would say, a window out of a world that has been desacralized.
3. Finally, great verses can be a valuable antidote to a prevalent chronological snobbery in the discovery of such a complete resourcefulness of language and thought throughout other ages. It is also the very content of this thought and language which is desperately needed as a corrective to our various temporal blind spots.
Do you find that certain themes reoccur in your work?
I’m not sure if certain themes recur (other than the sweeping categories of the church year, the icon, and local trees) as much as a common sacramental ontology that hopefully lightens the windows of each poem similar to the stained glass of George Herbert’s “The Windows” and “The Elixir”:
“But when thou dost anneal in glass thy story,
Making thy life to shine within
The holy Preacher’s; then the light and glory
More rev’rend grows, and more doth win:
Which else shows wat’rish, bleak, and thin.”
“A man that looks on glass,
On it may stay his eye,
Or if he pleaseth, through it pass,
And then the heav’n espy.”
Please speak on your poetic influences, past and present.
“As some of your poets have said” -St. Paul in the Acts of the Apostles
I think one of the most important roles of a poet is simply to join with the voices of other poets to proclaim the marvels of the great poiesis, to confirm and attest through the “primary imagination” as Coleridge put it. The choir of these poets for me would include (though this list is bound to grow) George Herbert, John Donne, George MacDonald, John Milton, Denise Levertov, Francis Thompson, Don Chaffer, C.S. Lewis, Malcolm Guite, Thomas Merton, Sir John Davies, Wendell Berry, William Blake, Auden, Bryn Homuth, Tyler Heath, Joshua Alan Sturgill, Coleridge, Chesterton, Milosz, Heaney, Hopkins, David, Dante, and Caedmon.
Reinventing the wheel is abasing, futile
Rediscovering the wheel is world’s apart
Child’s wonder in a father’s affirming
No rebuttal, nor worthless, amateur muse
Each may delight to find out the marvelous
(Epigrams, Series 1)
What do you wish for readers to experience when reading your first collection, Ordinary Time?
These lines may express it better than I can in prose:
Ordinary time is the purview of Christ,
The end of religion the prerogative
Of His extraordinary time— apart,
There is no time for the ordinary.
(Epigrams, Series 4)
The following poems are excerpted from the upcoming collection Ordinary Time, to be published on August 6th by Darkly Bright Press.
Authority of Mountains
The authority of mountains
Might be established,
Height with might
A correlated stone’s growth
Crushing thrones under weight,
Weigh wanting the rough places
Smooth the pine needle paths
Leading up the bolder slopes past
A vast vineyard, trellis splayed, as
Bent bones hold the Vine to slake
The thirst of a mounting multitude
Who gather, plow, plant, and pasture by
The wine-pressed mountain side, for,
Authority will lift again His Head on high
Radiant in the descending ascent of right,
Light of such countenance, Col de Lumiere,
Whose Crown in burning brilliance,
Comes dazzling white to fill the sky,
And we will speak of it to one another,
This mountain, and I will speak of it to you
And you to me, saying “Let’s climb together,”
For the One who speaks as one substance
Has granted to the mountains their form
By this His Peak, their only plumb and summit.
November’s leave’n tide blows
In billows from the north
Eddying about the corner gate
Settling as drakes in tidal pin oak pools
While other wooded remnants scurry
With chimney smoke, past a gourded stoop
And, tumbling away down the street, retreat.
Don’t send out to search.
You will find no one
To bury among the dead.
One must be led and then,
Only by Jacob’s Ladder,
Will you go up to find
The guides conversing
With the Promise.
With the decidedly untransfigured,
A babbler on the mount,
Invited to listen
Tabernacle with Emmanuel
Impossible with men yet
Cephas, Ciaphus, Balaam
Request, prophesy, bless.
The Temple is
Spilling His Glory
Filling eyes with good things,
The whelming flood—
Precious cloud cover.