Phantom Signs

The Muse in Universe City

  • Author(s): Brady, Philip
  • Series:
  • Imprint: University of Tennessee Press
  • Publication Date: 2019-03-15
  • Status: Active
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“Part high-spirited flash memoir, part nuanced cultural poetics, Philip Brady’s Phantom Signs sparkles with wit and insight. Writing as both esteemed poet and publisher of Etruscan Press, Brady offers incisive meditations on matters grave (the profound joy of playing basketball post-heart attack) and groovy (the poetry scene as it seemed to a shy young poet in the 70s) in prose so luminous it lifts off the page.  Moments of memoir punctuate discussions of poetry, which are, in their postmodern perspective on art and life, brilliant and wise. Phantom Signs is a dazzling read.”—Cynthia Hogue, Scheming Women

“Broadly and deeply learned, Brady’s pages shimmer with ideas. His prose bangs and jumps with the exuberance of a latter-day Thomas Carlyle. Philip Brady is the real thing.”—Sam Pickering, All My Days Are Saturdays

“A beautiful, fluid, graceful exploration. Original thinking in an original voice. I adore Brady’s lyricism, voice, style, syntax. All of it.”—Gary McDowell, Caesura: Essays

“Maybe because he was a changeling at birth or maybe because he died [briefly], or because of other lives as poet, editor, publisher, musician, basketballer, Philip Brady writes like no one else. His is a mind that is restless, extensive, resourceful, and unafraid. He believes equally in the Muse and in the mammal brain, the utterance and the sign, poetry and its undoing. He is able to channel voices from Africa and Ireland and antiquity as well as Kobe Bryant and the childhood hi-fi in Queens. Phantom Signs is a remarkable document that is also skeptical of the document, using the techniques of memoir and novel and song to disrupt the conventions of the essay.  He builds his own counter-testimony. Exacting of the word and generous of spirit, this book is a beautiful breaking of silence.”—Bruce Smith, Devotions


What are the paradoxes of the writing life, especially for a writer who represents the work of other writers? Philip Brady, poet at Youngstown State University and publisher at Etruscan Press, begins Phantom Signs pondering this question from his dual perspective as a professional writer and small-press publisher. This book emerges from the tension between these modes of being in the world: the writer’s dark; the editor’s light.

With humor, grace, and intelligence, this collection of personal essays comprises a reflective memoir, offering insights into the way that art affirms and resists identity. Rather than recounting events chronologically, Brady lets the “muse” meander through discourses on childhood poems, heart surgery, basketball, Homer, and po-biz, featuring a cast of characters that range from the Sea Nymph to The Three Stooges. Throughout, Brady plays on the creative tension between poetry’s dual means of apprehension: sound and text. Fixed yet ephemeral, poems make “phantom signs.” From this viewpoint, poetry is not merely a canon or even a literary genre, but a way to reshape mind and world—and what a world: bars, hospitals, swimming pools, bandstands, publishing offices, hoops courts, prisons, mythic love trysts, and descents into the underworld, as well as classrooms from four decades on three continents.

Brady’s experiences will ring true not only for those who would peer behind the curtain into the writers’ life but also for those who wrestle with the implications of their own aging. Readers who fear that poetry is bound by anthologies, cliques, and textbooks, will be heartened. Shimmering with lyrical prose, clever wordplay, and a lifetime’s immersion in literature, Brady’s reflections on the power of the muse are essential reading.

PHILIP BRADY is Distinguished Professor of English at Youngstown State University and the executive director of Etruscan Press. He is the author, most recently, of To Banquet with the Ethiopians: A Memoir of Life before the Alphabet and By Heart: Reflections of a Rust Belt Bard.