Speak Low is the tenth book from one of America's most distinctive—and one of poetry's most essential—contemporary voices. Phillips has long been hailed for work provocative in its candor, uncompromising in its inquiry, and at once rigorous and innovative in its attention to craft. Over the course of nine critically acclaimed collections, he has generated a sustained meditation on the restless and ever-shifting myth of human identity. Desire and loss, mastery and subjugation, belief and doubt, sex, animal instinct, human reason: these are among the lenses through which Phillips examines what it means to be that most bewildering, irresolvable conundrum, a human being in the world.
These new poems are of a piece with Phillips's previous work in their characteristic clarity and originality of thought, in their unsparing approach to morality and psychology, and in both the strength and startling flexibility of their line. Speak Low is the record of a powerful vision that, in its illumination of the human condition, has established itself as a necessary step toward our understanding of who we are in the twenty-first century.
Speak Low is a 2009 National Book Award Finalist for Poetry.
This 10th book from the prolific Phillips (Quiver of Arrows) is a quiet yet wounded reflection on Phillips' signature subjects: relationships, distances, identity, and damage. Phillips' remarkable ability to be clear yet illusive, as well as his dizzying syntax, are ever- present as the poems coil into places of confusion: "Oh, sometimes it is as if desire had been given form, and/ acreage, and I'd been left for lost there. Amazement grips me,// I grip it back." Rendering visceral moments with surprising leisure, "like blood with a drawl to it," Phillips searches slowly but relentlessly for answers to unanswerable questions: "who's to say what will not be useful?" Critics who find Phillips' poems overwrought at times are unlikely to change their minds now, but for his many fans, this collection is more evidence that Phillips is making good on his offer to "show you what it looks like/ when surrender, and an instinct not to, run side by side."