Born on July 23, 1959, in Everett, Washington, Carl Phillips, like many children of military personnel, grew up in various bases overseas and in the United States. His father, Carl Phillips, Sr., carried with him the harsh memories of a pre–civil rights South and wished to “shield” his children from the racism he experienced in Alabama, and so the family never visited and often consciously avoided the South. Helen Savage Phillips also left much of her past behind, leaving London as she helped to build a home for her growing family, first in Washington, then in Germany, and finally in Massachusetts.
As a biracial and bicultural child, Carl Phillips embraced languages as a means of making sense of the world. As a youngster in Germany, he avidly studied German, but it was as a teenager in Massachusetts that Phillips found his true passion for Latin. He was seduced by Latin the way many adolescents delight in the making and deciphering of codes. Despite his gift with languages, Phillips entered Harvard as a premed major but quickly found his way to the Department of Classics. After graduating in 1981, Phillips enrolled in a two-year program in classics at the University of Massachusetts. Upon receiving his M.A.T. in 1983, he then began a career in education, teaching Latin in three different secondary schools, including his alma mater, Falmouth High School. With one more detour into Harvard’s doctoral program in classical philology, Phillips began finally to confront his desire to write. He had, in fact, completed a first book of poems and then entered Boston University’s creative writing program in 1992.
It can hardly be accidental that Phillips found, and perhaps more accurately trusted, his passion for poetry at the same time that he was asking questions about his sexuality. He had been married since 1983, but in the late 1980s Phillips began