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The Experiment of the Tropics

Returning us to an often forgotten part of American history, the colonization of the Philippines from 1900–1946, The Experiment of the Tropics digs into history’s archives and excavates a city, both real and imagined, that is constituted by the shimmer of petal and porch, coral and brass—a river-refrigerator where women catch their reflections on the sheen of magazines and men lean against the walls of old houses and beckon, come here. So, we approach.

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Featured on July 6, 2020

White Blood: A Lyric of Virginia

Every story has a beginning, and mine starts in Virginia. My book, White Blood, is a work of documentary poetry, taking as the starting point my own genealogical roots in the Commonwealth. My ancestors belong(ed) to the Black communities of central and northern Virginia. They survived centuries of enslavement and went on to raise their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren in freedom. Because many of my Black Virginian ancestors were denied literacy, they left behind few written records of their lives prior to the twentieth century. I began writing these poems by conducting archival research, in person and online, to gain some sense of who they were. I visited libraries, museums, and historical societies. I also traveled to specific sites in Virginia where my ancestors may have lived. Far from "solving" the mysteries of my ancestors' origins, my search often led me to ask new questions about the past, and about how we tell stories. These poems come from a section of the book called "Louisa," after the county in central Virginia. Harriett and Butler Smith, mother and son, are two ancestors of mine who resided there. They, and the collective ancestral voice I call the “Free Smiths,” are inspired as much by the documentary silences in their histories as by the existing records of their lives. The poem “Mrs. A. T. Goodwin’s Letter to the Provost Marshal, 1866” takes its title and reformulates individual phrases from a handwritten letter filed at the Virginia Freedmen’s Bureau Field Office in Louisa. The Bureau was established in 1865 to aid newly freed Black Americans in the aftermath of the Civil War.

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Featured on June 29, 2020

April 2020

My youngest chosen family member and I walk through a deserted city park. They are thirteen; we’ve lived together since they were two. “I haven’t been here before,” they say, gesturing at the tall cedars around us. “You have. You just don’t recognize the park without people.” “Have you ever seen anything like this happen before?” they ask. “This” meaning the COVID 19 pandemic. ‘What have I seen before’ is a routine inquiry of theirs. A few questions that I particularly remember them asking: Did a kid from your school ever go missing? (yes; I’ll never forget her.) Have you ever felt scared to go to a party? (fuck yes; let’s brainstorm coping skills for social anxiety.) Did you have a girlfriend in high school? (sort of; I had a secret in high school.) This question, though, about COVID 19 is the first time I tell them “no.” I’ve never seen anything like this. I have no anecdotes or experiential advice to comfort them with. Another first, the first that troubles me more, is that our conversation doesn’t veer into “what if” thinking. Speculating possibilities—strategic, fantastic or comedic—has been our go-to for years. For example, what if you could turn invisible at parties? We walked the remainder of the fern-lined path in silence. Maybe poetry can fill the gap in our conversation? Speculative poetry can voice the most horrific and redemptive “what if” thoughts. Speculative poetry isn’t short on words to describe how our realities are always shifting.

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Featured on June 1, 2020

My Second Work

Metaphysical in concern, hypermodern in tone, Bridget Lowe returns in this anticipated second collection, determined as ever to make meaning from the perversity of suffering. My Second Work is rare in its ability to be widely resonant, as Lowe transforms experiences of shame, disgust, and bewilderment into a kind of unexpected hope. The narrator exposes the ways our bodies, minds, and souls are formed—and deformed—by the work we do. No one, nothing, is spared in Lowe’s discerning assessment — even the moon must “manage her tides / for a life of unpaid overtime / before the final intervention.”

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