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Speak Low

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  220 ratings  ·  19 reviews
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 med ...more
Hardcover, 68 pages
Published March 31st 2009 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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4.09  · 
Rating details
 ·  220 ratings  ·  19 reviews

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Jun 23, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: poetry
Do you ever not like a book and then feel really guilty about it? Like you've disappointed someone whose opinion you really respect, or hurt someone you care about, unexpectedly. A weird kind of embarrassed, surprised guilt.

That's what I felt about this book. I knew pretty much from the first poem that Phillips's language wasn't going to work for me, but I tried to stick it out. The problem is that the language didn't seem refined enough; there seemed, in places, to be too many words that weren
Jun 09, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What limits this for me, despite several extraordinary poems (e.g., The Centaur, and The Raft), is its incessant occasion, the way however precisely Phillips sees between his classical textual tradition and experience identity, the occasion remains "tethered" to the text and hasn't been granted its linguistic modality. The warrant against my criticism is the classical tradition itself, obviously. Just so, the recourse is incessant. Where the precision warrants exploration, the writing can be qui ...more
Ron Charles
Apr 27, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
Earlier this month, Carl Phillips was my guest in “The Life of a Poet” series, sponsored by the Hill Center and the Library of Congress. I had not met Phillips before that evening, but he was a fantastic interview subject – witty, candid and thoughtful. And he read his own poems beautifully.

For more and a video of our conversation, go to The Washington Post:
Lou Last
Sep 27, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poems


Like that feeling inside the mouth as it makes of obscenity
a new endearment. Like a rumormonger without sign among
the deaf,
the speechless. Having been able, once, not only
to pick out the one crow in a cast of ravens, but to parse darker,
even more difficult distinctions: weakness and martyrdom;
waves, and the receding fact of them as they again
come back;
bewilderment and, as if inescapable, that streak of cruelty to
which by daybreak we confess ourselves resigned, by noon
accustomed, by nigh
Max Potthoff
Apr 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
"A finch settles on a tiger lily like an intended kindness beneath which the stem bends slightly, not so much receiving as accommodating the new weight, the way truth accommodates distortion, and can still seem true". While I enjoyed Speak Low a little less than more recent works of Carl Phillips, I loved reading this as a prelude to Wild is the Wind. Very dynamic to see how much his voice has changed in less than a decade, while still maintaining the strength and simplicity that makes him so en ...more
I chose to read one of Carl Phillips more recent poetry books because I'd read a review that said it was a bit of a departure from his other work and I thought it might prove an interesting touchpoint in book club discussions, but we didn't really get to discuss his work all that much when we met with him for dinner during the UND writer's conference. I saw him read after our meal, and he was soft spoken, a slow and dramatic reader. He called grammar sexy. THAT cracked me up. :) (Yet, I can rela ...more
May 06, 2009 rated it it was ok
Once I started feeling as though the titles of these poems could be interchanged and it wouldn't change the poems for me, I lost hope of connecting to them in a whole way. Like other readers, I was zapped by certain lines but not by entire poems. I like the idea of the people in the poems being real or mythic, and the repetition of terms and images throughout the volume--the word "pattern" for example, or the sea, birds, etc. as others have pointed out as well. My inability to connect is due to ...more
Oct 31, 2010 rated it it was ok
I really liked the first poem, "Speak Low" and the rest were good--although sometimes I couldn't quite figure out what was going on in them. This poem collection dovetailed nicely with Secret Historian: The Life and Times of Samuel Steward, Professor, Tattoo Artist, and Sexual Renegade that I just finished reading.
Aug 18, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Robert Beveridge
Carl Phillips, Speak Low (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2009)

Love and power intertwine in Speak Low, the most recent book by Carl Phillips, and that can make for a discomfiting mix for those of us who don't follow the same path. Balanced against that is the fact that Phillips is not an impulsive poet; his work is introspective, measured, capable of conveying the attraction in a way that makes it understandable for us normals while still conveying the discomfiture:

“...I even think they look, more/t
Shaina Clingempeel
Exceptional. You can feel his strong influence on a favorite modern poet of mine, Ocean Vuong. "You can build for yourself a tower to signal from. Can become a still life. A slow ruin. You can walk away." It deals with an unhealthy relationship, a fierce love turned violent, and one in which neither person realizes what's unfolding until it does. You can mark clear obsessions in his work, with surreal, naturalistic imagery and mythological images, which often demonstrate power struggles. There's ...more
May 31, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Phillips has a way of analyzing experience so that it feels both intellectual and felt. Almost as though the poems take one small step away from their subject (which in this case centers mainly around romance and what it means for it to end), and then offer the reader a view that is filled by a slowed-down pathos described intelligently and thoroughly. I would compare it to being given a rose, and then having each petal of the rose made as sensuous and important as the rose itself, as well as th ...more
Nicole Hardina
Feb 16, 2011 rated it it was amazing
As a person who wants to write good poetry, I've been advised to stay away from being cerebral; it inhibits "the leap," I've been told, in which the mind is allowed to free-associate; it can be limiting, as some poetry I've read, wherein if you aren't interested in the content, there's nothing there for you. In this book, Carl Phillips is both cerebral and imagistic; he leaps. He bounds. He flies. He is a careful observer and a thorough thinker who exposes nuanced truths. Something I truly enjoy ...more
Oct 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2013, poetry
Carl Phillips is a strong poet, mixing the literary and the sensual, the natural and the intellectual. While I enjoyed a great many of these poems, I also felt like something was lacking, something that would have put them over the top, making them transcendent and truly classic. These are dense, challenging pieces, no doubt, and they are rich with image, allusion and beauty.
R.G. Evans
Aug 01, 2011 rated it it was ok
A thematic mashup of sexual domination and ancient Greek philosophies on war and the use of force, the poems in Speak Low seemed to me bloodless and hermetically personal. Although this book was a National Book Award finalist and seems to be universally praised as fine poems from one of America's essential poets, I just couldn't find a way into most of these poems.
Geoff Wehmeyer
Jan 18, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Who we were,
in a lineup beside four versions of what we've turned into,
and ourselves the victim, exhausted, confused, unable to
say with any real certainty
who did it from the Academy of American Poets
Prepare for the 2010 Poets Forum in New York City (October 28-30) by reading Phillips's newest book of poetry, and check out the Poets Forum 2010 bookshelf for the latest collections by each of the poets participating in the Poets Forum. Happy reading!
Nov 02, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Personally, I have to read Carl's poems slowly. They are so intricate and dense with emotion and linguistic play. It took a while for me to get through this collection but it was totally worth it.
Eva Eldridge
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Rambling Reader
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Carl Phillips is the highly acclaimed author of 10 collections of poetry.

He was born in 1959 to an Air Force family, who moved regularly throughout his childhood, until finally settling in his high-school years at Cape Cod, Massachusetts. He holds degrees from Harvard University, the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, and Boston University and taught high-school Latin for eight years.

His first
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