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  • Speak Low
  • Natalie Shapero, Guest Poetry Editor

Lowness as a state of emotion. Lowness as a quality of sound. Lowness as a status. Lowness as a literal geographical feature. Initially, I was interested in compiling a set of poems that investigated the condition of lowness; each time one poem tried to veer away, another poem reached up a tendril from the lowlands and dragged it back down. Of the work presented here, the first piece I encountered, chronologically, was Emily Spencer's "I'm Not Interested," a sharp and sinewy little poem of refusal. The poem begins with the image of gold circles; the attendant mention of "Third phalanges" might put you in mind of wedding rings. So, you might think the speaker is not interested in marriage. But then the ornate cathedral imagery that follows ("Bernini's Baroque / Canopy in St. Peter's / Gold / Circles") directs you instead to consider the gilded roof of the structure, or maybe a circular frame around a bit of iconography, or maybe the trope of the gold nimbus hovering over the head of a figure of great significance. The disinterest, you might then think, is actually directed at the institution of religion. Or is it that the speaker is "not interested" in the pairing of the two, how the organization of private lives is ordered to fall under the jurisdiction of a theological superstructure?

All of the poems in this feature are directed, in some way, upward. Naoko Fujimoto's destabilizing "Low Orbit" ponders freedom and confinement in the context of nationality and belonging, situating the figure of a "restless woman" alongside the image of the astronauts circling above us, taking their protracted and rarified shits in space. Jameson Fitzpatrick's "Man with a Movie Camera" offers a sly and horrifying elision between a romantic partner and a film director: "The worst part / of the movie / is you cut me." This lurking threat comes up, too, in Jennifer L. Knox's bizarre and haunting "Finding a Drawer Full of Drivers' Licenses" and Roy White's quick-moving, deceptively nonchalant "Gawker Slowdown," both of which engage with [End Page 19] the omnipresence of violence against the vulnerable and the condition of being unsuspecting.

A number of these poems also squarely explore the production and dissemination of knowledge—where does it originate, where does it propose to end, and how does it establish its own authority and boundedness? Two of the poems, from Jillian Weise and Nikki Wallschlaeger, feature William Carlos Williams as the figure of the capital-A Author. Who gets ushered into the canon's echelons, and who remains below? Edwin Alanís-García's "Parisian Needles" ponders the dubious pathways of ascendancy to the Sorbonne, an investigation that ultimately leads to the conclusion that this world should sink into the Seine and keep going "all the way to Mictlan." From Tongo Eisen-Martin comes the fragment, "I never cared for teachers … just the pattern of fainting spells induced by wall art." In the way that you might hear someone referring to God as "the man upstairs" or referring to the wealthy as "upstairs" (the inverse of "downstairs"), these poems are low-lying. They inhabit a stripped-downness, a hushedness, a blue; they also lie in wait, preparing to strike. [End Page 20]



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