Philip Schultz: “Failure”
The Failure Interview.
The subject matter of Philip Schultz’s latest collection of poems is one this magazine knows well—failure. At first glance, failure might seem like an odd choice for the accomplished writer and teacher, who has six books of poetry to his credit and is revered for founding the Writers Studio. However, a closer look at his earlier work reveals that Schultz has been writing about failure throughout his career. Naturally, with “Failure” (Harcourt) out in bookstores this month, we felt compelled to ask Schultz about his unique perspective on failure, and what inspired him to devote an entire book to our favorite subject.
How long have you been dealing with the subject of failure?
Knowingly? Just for this book. Two years ago I was having lunch with a friend and he told me his father was a failure. I told him about my past and it came out that there were some interesting similarities. My father died bankrupt when I was young—18—and it took over my life and my mother’s life. I think when you go through something like that there is always a sense that you’re the only one. I had never met anyone who had anything close to my experience.
On the way back from that lunch I began wondering how many other men suffered the consequences of this and I felt inspired that my friend had been open with me. So I went home and wrote a poem called “The One Truth.” It came out rather—I won’t say easily—but fluidly. It was dramatic and angry. After that I wrote a poem called “Failure” in which I dealt with the subject directly—head on.
Looking back on my other work [the subject of] failure has always been there. It’s probably why I’m a writer—a poet. But I would deal with it in more isolated ways. This time it became the subject of a book.