A review of Savannah Slone’s Hearing the Underwater
By Adedayo Agarau
Savannah Slone’s Hearing the Underwater opens as a departure into miracles— the fervent gift of gifting oneself through words, through stories—and ending in magic. I have always envied how poets do it, how they cut themselves open for us to peep through where their souls leak. It is rare to see a poet like Slone, the sincerities that she spills through her craft and the bliss, the grace, the unraveling of ease that powerfully storms her work. In her chapbook, Hearing the Underwater, Slone’s illusory words and storytelling wasn’t lacking in aptness.
The opening poem, Venal Exodus, unbolted a line as corruptible:
“playing sex” in Grandma’s Powder Room.
Slone purported the difference between innocence that comes with juvenile wonder and, of course, the baggage of adulthood: grief, guilt, and loss.
fall face first into the couch. Real
sex in Grandma’s Powder Room. Fast,
fast forward. Child drives, child
graduates high school, child”
Slone wakes up into the sense of time and brings us into the reality of adulthood. It is quite exquisite how art does it all, how the sense of time, place, and season can be shoved down the spine of its readers with very singular words. In the now from the verse in “Venal Exodus”, playing sex quickly transforms into Real sex. She takes us further into the grief that unfolds with reality, believes that innocence dies with adolescence. Don’t we all sometimes envy little kids, in how everything seems to be right with them? Their innocent laughter at the burial ceremonies of their uncles; I didn’t prepare for this adulthood and Slone knows that so well.
She pounds self into being within the pages of this book. While she teaches us to hear the silence gulping itself out in the underwater, she tells us I’m going to tell you a truth and a lie: I love myself in “A (Self) Love Story.” The magic of body is an undefeatable one, and Slone, from the poem, wrote a reminder that I hate myself for hating myself. Her brilliance did not leave out a place for recognizing mental illness. She puts every piece on this slate to create a book flying, wearing the colors of the rainbow.
Castled in her mild way of telling her poems, the anguish in her voice cannot be erased. In her work, “280 days in,” Slone opens the poem into a tears-filled bath-tube and says:
“i am a calf. i am a newborn. taken from my mother and thrown onto the ground. the passersby look down
Anger and pain, slowly grow into trees in this one. Just like her poem, “hollow lungs, eyes, kazoos, and fingernails” where “we bury disassembled rag dolls.”
I am particularly thrilled about how the collection grew through the pages—each flip: a stronger dose, a weightier punch, actively retorting, authoritatively asking “Confined: to endure?”
The concept of paging is also the art of pacing the heart of the reader, asking it to be gentle here, be fierce here, asking it to prepare its armors, that there is a war begging to be read in the coming pages. While I read through Savannah Slone’s works, I stopped over certain lines like “I crave meaning from/This weary world where/I live and will leave” and “What are you/going to be when you/grow up?” Effortlessly, Savannah has written a book that innocently bleeds too much importance. The voice, the themes, the severed parts of her body aching while she wrote still breathes in these poems.
Slone writes from a place of memory, I am sure. She carefully examines misogyny and burns it to ash in Hearing the Underwater. This book multitasks shoots at a thousand birds at the same time and still brings us to the calm where we hear the underwater speak. In “Shot Down”, a poem written in response to Frida Kahlo’s “La venadita (little deer).” Slone states reasons why she was shot down, the most striking of it all is:
“Ninth for saying I had a boyfriend,
just so you wouldn’t shoot
me in the heart with an arrow.”
But I will instead choose the fifth reason:
“Fifth for not going swimming on the first date.”
“Sixth for not submitting to my husband’s every dictation.”
The poem is spectacularly rebellious in the most upright way. Slone’s approach mocks the world’s concept of acceptance, a one-sided, left-handed, one-eyed pirates’ kind of acceptance that does not bend to take us first as humans, before anything else. I tell my friends that in those split seconds between birth and the naming of sex, we were first human.
Slone sure crossed several lines in her book, Hearing the Underwater. According to her, the underwater is a gold mine of unheard voices, a place where we are probably too scared to reach, but is a safe house, a lighthouse, a city on the hill. She trumps the harsh reality of living in America ruled by Trump into the book because it is worthy of being heard from this underwater.
Elsewhere, in “Maternal Encounters of Disregard,” Slone masterfully explores reproductive rights, and tenderly leaves us with a heartbreaking closure.
If you listen carefully to the underwater, you will hear the loud voice of Savannah Slone in “Because You Asked About Love, I’ll Tell You.” She believes that Love should be heard / should be felt / should be unanticipated / should be finding home.
One who reads this work and assumes that Slone must have found what real love means would not be gunning too far away from the bull's eye. The poem expands into the metaphoric richness that carefully strings together the totality of what Slone believes that love should be. And if you ask me, I believe in what the water goddess, Savannah Slone, believes. She believes that love should be your voice, and also believes that it should make you reconsider every thought. I am sure she finds a renewable miracle in love.
Slone leaves us with “exit / ignition / ascend / deadbolt / mute / recharge,” from her poem “Muzzled Magic,” but unlike the title, the poem is loud, violent “[Playground of ghost tongues],” and of course, magical. The perfect exit is this “Muzzled Magic,” which brings us back to our endearing but threatening real world.
Adedayo Agarau is a student and poet hoping to make the world a little better with his words and photography. He has works up at Barren Magazine, Geometry and 8poems. He is the author of For Boys Who Went. His manuscript "Asylum Chapel," is coming to light for publication and looking for a good home. Please connect with him on twitter @adedayoagarau and on Instagram @wallsofibadan, where he documents the beauty and pain of his Nigerian city home.