by michael kocinsky photography by ryan warner
I was 19 the first time I heard Bob Phillips read. He was performing as a member of the Back to Jack troupe at the Center for Performing Arts at the University of Toledo. Bob has a distinctive voice, with a bit of smoker’s gravel and a particular way of enunciating that gives every word its proper weight. I remember he read a scene out of Big Sur where Jack is hungover, bemoaning his condition, his inability to abstain from drinking, and the sad status of the drunk in the world. Bob read this selection like he was born already familiar with Kerouac’s punctuation and cadence. It was the scene I most looked forward to hearing at subsequent Back to Jack performances. Not long after that first Back to Jack I started attending a local open mic where I heard Bob (and other Back to Jack performers) read original work. His poems are funny, sincere, spiritual, local in a way but still universal, accessible, and from my perspective, very well made. When you hear Bob read his poems, or find one of them in front of you, you realize that Bob cares a lot about what poetry can and should do. He’s humble about it. He’s at every reading in town, just about, sitting in the front row, remembering a line that killed in every poem and telling the poet who wrote it, after the reading, just how much he liked hearing it. Bob’s presence means a lot to poets young and old in Toledo. I’ve heard people say he’s the best poet in town, and they mean it.
underground art magazine