Eight books of poetry, one book of essays, a translation of Sophocles' Philoctetes
, two stints leading Washington University's writing program, and more awards for his poetry than your average writer has fingers and toes, there's no doubt about it: In a city known for its heavyweight poets, Carl Phillips is the reigning champ. Phillips' poetry tackles the thorny relationship between faith, sex and loss. His verse, often comprising one elaborate sentence, discards minor details, opting instead for the emotional meat and potatoes. "He goes right to the emotion, without blah-blah about anything inessential," says Phillips' mentor, former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky. "He knows how to make the sentences become vocal, so that they approach actual song." Not that Phillips would ever crow about his own talent. Shy and self-effacing, the Central West End resident insists he works hard for every word, sentence and stanza. "Writing can go from nine in the morning. I'll only come out for lunch, and then I'll go back in until dinner. It can be really long," says Phillips. "Sometimes I'll work for hours to get to a sentence like: 'He turned.' And I'll think, that's all I get?"