He was a child of a military family, moving year-by-year until finally settling in his high-school years on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. A graduate of Harvard University, the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and Boston University, Phillips taught high-school Latin for eight years.
His first collection of poems, In the Blood, won the 1992 Samuel French Morse Poetry Prize, and his second book, Cortège, was nominated for a 1995 National Book Critics Circle Award. His Pastoral won the 2001 Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry. Phillips' work has been published in the Yale Review, Atlantic Monthly, the New Yorker and the Paris Review. He was named a Witter Bynner Fellow in 1998 and in 2006, he was named the recipient of the Fellowship of the Academy of American Poets, given in memory of James Merrill. Phillips is currently a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.
His poems, which include themes of spirituality, sexuality, mortality, and faith, are featured in American Alphabets: 25 Contemporary Poets (2006) and many other anthologies.
Phillips is a judge for the 2010 Griffin Poetry Prize. In April 2010, Phillips was named as the new judge of the Yale Series of Younger Poets, replacing Louise Gluck. In 2011, Phillip was appointed to the judging panel for The Kingsley and Kate Tufts Poetry Awards. His collection of poetry, Double Shadow, was a finalist for the 2011 National Book Award for poetry. Double Shadow won the 2011 Los Angeles Times Book Prize (Poetry category).
- 2013: Silverchest, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
- 2011: Double Shadow, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
- 2009: Speak Low, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
- 2007: Quiver of Arrows: Selected Poems, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
- 2006: Riding Westward, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
- 2004: Coin of the Realm: Essays on the Art and Life of Poetry, Saint Paul, Minnesota: Graywolf Press
- 2004: The Rest of Love, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
- 2002: Rock Harbor, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
- 2001: The Tether, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
- 2000: Pastoral, Saint Paul, Minnesota: Graywolf Press
- 1998: From the Devotions, Saint Paul, Minnesota: Graywolf Press
- 1995: Cortège, Saint Paul, Minnesota: Graywolf Press
- 1992: In the Blood, selected and introduced by Rachel Hadas, Boston: Northeastern University Press
- "Faculty Experts at Washington University in St. Louis: Carl Phillips". Washington University in St. Louis. Retrieved 2007-08-26.
- "Selected Awards and Honors". Graywolf Press. Retrieved 2007-08-26.
- Poetry Is His Perfect Expression
- Article at the Library of Congress
- Washington University in St. Louis: Poet Carl Phillips is finalist for National Book Award
- Poetry.LA's video of Carl Phillips' reading at Boston Court Performing Arts Center, Pasadena, CA, 03/08/10
- 2009 National Book Award Finalist in Poetry
- Phillips Interview on Words on a Wire