At the NC Writers Conference, a poet faces her fears

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Emilia Phillips signs copies of her book of poetry 'Empty Clip' on Thursday at UNCG. (photo by Tracy Tanner)

Every so often a poet must leave her isolated desk and come out into the world, a fearful task for some writers. For poet Emilia Phillips, this fear comes to life perhaps more often than she would like. As a new professor for the MFA Writing program at UNCG, Phillips faces her biggest fear nearly every day.

“It’s kind of funny but my biggest fear is reading for students,” Phillips said. “I always get a little nervous like they’re sitting there thinking, Oh, this person’s been teaching me? I get nervous but that sort of slides away after I get going.”

Phillips is the author of three collections of poems. The official release of her third collection of poems, Empty Clip, is April 23, though UNCG is hosting the book release and signing on Thursday. A new resident to Greensboro, Phillips will be teaching the poetry master class at the NC Writers’ Network Spring 2018 conference at UNCG on April 21. She said she has been made to feel at home in the writing community.

“I’ve been at UNCG since August and pretty new to Greensboro,” Phillips said. “I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how many writers are here and how strong the writing community is. The literary community is one of the things I value most in my career in writing and my life in writing. It’s a little intimidating but I’ve definitely been welcomed with open arms.”

Her master class, entitled “A Poem that Sings,” explores the language of poetry in a different way.

“I’m interested in identifying ways in which the poetry we write and encounter are not only musical for music’s sake, but is also productively musical,” Phillips said. “I want include language that renders the action and spaces within the poem to allow the sound to be as much a part of the immersive experience as the information, making it really sing in a different way.”

To learn more about Emilia Phillips’ master class and register for the NC Writers’ Network Conference, visit ncwriters.org.

The NC Writers’ Network brings thousands of writers and bibliophiles together from across the state. Founded in the mid-1980s, a small group of writers and teachers met at the Poetry Center Southeast of Guilford College in Greensboro to discuss starting a statewide literary service organization. The group surveyed writers, teachers, editors, librarians, publishers and lovers of literature who embraced the notion of a statewide organization because many felt isolated from literary opportunities. After their official nonprofit approval in 1985, the NC Writers’ Network has built a lasting community of writers to come together and explore their creative endeavors.

“Conferences are the best access we have in seeing the literary community at large,” Phillips said “On top of that, writing is such a lonely task, and conferences sort of remind us that we’re not so alone. I know for myself that, in the past, after attending a workshop or conference I tend walk away with this urge to write. The class stays with me long after.”

Phillips’ writing craft has evolved over the course of her career. From early beginnings of simply getting images and ideas down on the page, she has developed new habits, something she hopes to share in her master class.

“I’m now drafting all of my poems out loud at first,” Phillips said. “Then I’ll go back and hand-write them, then at some point I’ll type them up. For me it’s a necessary sense of sound that comes through because I am composing orally, and as I’m progressing through the poem, I’m repeating it to myself and memorizing it on some level. When I finally get to the page I try use it in a way to develop tension between lines and syntax and try to create subtext in the poem. Form is a way to subvert and nuance meaning.”

Despite a great deal of traveling to conferences for readings and book signings, most recently to the Association of Writers & Writing Programs in Tampa, Phillips manages to remain focused on her work. Since her first chapbook collection of poems was published in 2010, Phillips has published three other chapbooks and three full-length collections, with several poems already piling up for another collection in the near future. For any author, being dubbed prolific might feel more curse than flattery; the fear that they might never live up to the compliment. In a recent interview with The Angle, Phillips seemed to laugh off the moniker, surmising it is simply what she must do.

“I don’t feel prolific in any way,” Phillips told The Angle. “In fact, I often feel like I’m not doing enough, but maybe that’s why I am always writing. It’s never enough. This poem is never good enough. And any time I take time off, I feel guilty! I jones for writing, and when I can’t, I feel physically ill.”

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