Encountering Andrew Philip’s the Ambulance Box

“Even the pick / of those we share our pulse with shares this jolt / beneath the ribs, this double click of love. / How could they cope with even just one heart?”

-Andrew Philip, “Cardiac”

The Ambulance Box by Andrew PhilipI have Jilly Dybka to thank for sending Andrew Philip my way. Since I have written openly about the difficult and transformational experience of losing our first-born son, she must have recognized the the rare opportunity our being in touch provides. I am glad she did. It is an experience Andrew and I share.

Naturally, I was keen to read his debut book. What I discovered was not only personally moving, but profoundly accomplished work. Andrew writes in both English and Scots, placing himself in a tradition stretching back to John Barbour and encompassing Robert Fergusson and Robert Burns. As an American, I feel under-qualified to comment on the unique cultural and socio-political implications of this dual-language approach. (And, I must admit that I gave the online Dictionary of the Scots Language a good workout in making my way through some of the poems.) However, both as a poet in love with lyricism, and a father who lost an infant son, I can not resist adding my praise and commendation to the acclaim this book is gathering.

Andrew writes not only in Scots, a Germanic (not Gaelic) language, but in German as well. In “Berlin / Berlin / Berlin” he combines all three. If it is true, as Robert Frost tells us, that “Poetry is what gets lost in translation,” there is a poetry uniquely found between the languages by Andrew Philip. Wildly associative, and at times experimental, the musicality of these poems lend congruity and veracity even as they burst with linguistic mischief. This is, above all, a collection full of life–which is what makes the moments in which poems touch, lightly but unflinchingly, upon grief, all the more profound. From the premonitory vision of a “difficult, unasked-for joy” in “Pedestrian” through the incredible moment in “Still” when grief rewrites the resurrection, announcing in broken lines across the page, “he is not here / he is not here / he is not here,” these poems are rapturous even in despair. Sentimentality and easy words seem as though they might never have been invented in the remarkable worldview Andrew hands us in this book, “in a language,” as he says at the end of “Tonguefire Night,” “yet to be born.”

As part of Salt Publishing‘s innovative cyclone virtual book tour, I will have the pleasure of interviewing Andrew in about a month. I hope you will join me. Salt has also recently launched a highly successful “just one book” campaign to save this well-regarded imprint from financial doom. If you do choose to support world-class poetry publishing by purchasing just one, or one hundred, books from Salt, be sure to make your first The Ambulance Box.