A Review of Savannah Slone's Hearing the Underwater

In Hearing the Underwater, Savannah Slone shows a speaker oscillating at the boundary of their inner and outer worlds, each piece the rhythmic inhale and exhale of a queer woman finding the edges of her personhood while the world stares in judgement. There are no easy answers, no convenient discoveries of the meaning behind the confusion. Instead, Slone chooses to craft a collection of work that unapologetically embraces the “underwater” of life: the chaos and uncertainty of mothering, of adolescence, and of self-realization.

Slone’s work is at its best when she exercises her sharp eye for enjambment, crafting compelling narratives, and wading through the complexities of her core subject matter. Her work on motherhood is particularly resonant, and I felt threads of connection here with a seminal work on queer motherhood, Minnie Bruce Pratt’s Crime Against Nature. Like Pratt, Slone is concerned with who gets to be seen as a fit mother, particularly by institutional powers, but is most deeply concerned with the inner life and pressures of motherhood. In one the book’s most memorable pieces, “Forewarning Pantoum,” Slone writes:

The ocean’s multiple personalities pull me this way and that.

My body beats a tempest of panic.

Last minute maternal liberation; near abduction. Rescued.

Here, the ocean the speaker moves through becomes both the danger of the world and the immovable weight of their own fears. Those fears aren’t solely constrained to motherhood, however. In “A (Self) Love Story,” Slone writes, “Sometimes revulsion defeats and I’m left alone, parched, while my mouth and lungs are filled to the brim with waves, spitting out the overflow, trying to fight for myself.” Hearing the Underwater is an ode to this inner conflict; to seeing the truth of oneself and the danger of the world and taking action in response. Slone’s pieces call on the reader to take account of pain and injustice, and to keep pressing forward and against, to keep doing the work of finding oneself even when overwhelmed, and even when others believe they’ve already found the answers for you.

Some of the few less engaging moments in the book come from pieces such as “slice,” a somewhat generalized take on American politics and oppression. The book’s commentary-driven selections lack a certain shine likely because they stand in contrast to such profound confessional work. The pieces grounded in the speaker’s own truth are high points that some of the others don’t quite reach, but that said, part of what make Slone’s poetry exciting is her willingness to explore every road a poem can take you down; there is nothing homogenous or pallid about this book, rather, each page takes its own chances, adding new dimensions to the whole.

Hearing the Underwater is full of possibility. There’s much to celebrate about the book’s versatility in form and style, but most crucially, in Slone’s willingness to make her work a space of advocacy and honest self-exploration which implores readers to do the same.

You can purchase this collection here.