Sunday, 13 September 2009

Poetry book: Magdalene and the Mermaids by Elizabeth Kate Switaj

Book Blurb:

At the heart of this comprehensive collection lies the Biblical character of Mary Magdalene whose presence is prominent in many of the poems and who haunts those which are, ostensibly, departures from the subject matter that dominates. However, departure and digression are not the hallmarks of this work and each piece of writing represents a different incursion into the topic from angles and perspectives that are startling, original and engaging. By adopting an overarching motif, the author is able to align more personal topics and themes with the main focus, at times appearing to move into territory not evidently covered by the title but always providing the vital connection somewhere in this sequence of compositions.

Title: Magdalene and the Mermaids
Author: Elizabeth Kate Switaj
ISBN: 9780979847066
Publisher: Paper Kite Press/2009
Pages: 56

As most of you know, I write poetry. That is one major factor, which leads me to read poetry. I read all kinds of poetry, classics, modern etc etc. Lately I have been exploring contemporary poetry. When I saw this poetry book showcased on various blogs, I requested a copy from the author and she was kind enough to send me one. It is a thin book of 56 pages. After finishing I wanted it to be a fat, thick book!

One can't read poetry at one go as all images merge and one doesn't really enjoy it that much. Despite the thinness, it took me a while to finish this book. I let my thoughts drift to many directions, many layers. And I was really glad that I read it. As the blurb says, it does refer to Magdalene, the biblical character but that is not the only element here. In most of the poems, it is the metaphor of mermaid that speaks to us. Switaj has made the mermaid come alive for us. Her feelings, emotions pour forth. We can see the intense love, rejection, despair, angst and deep sadness. No, I didn't need a hanky to wipe my tears as I also saw that there is hope, despite the sign of dejection.

In To Siren In Museum, we can see her resignation to herer plight after her lover left her:

I gather shelves of ancient clays
around my empty hours
Repeat their names
lekthos, oil flask
kantharos, drinking cup with two high handles
skyphoid pyxis, cosmetic box

and skip ages of painted warriers
who might take my tale
myself into their epic arcs

My story is nothing
left on some rock

You, then, surprise me
with your shaped smile
no teeth no peeling skin
in your pale terracotta
with sparkles for freckles

I touch my cheeks
You do not sing
and so I must for both of us

My story is nothing
left on some rock

It is not only the mermaid, it is about that inner us to, which faces rejection in love for whatsover reason. Yet we go on, defenceless but strong. Rawness is everywhere, yet we grow a skin on it. This is how I truly felt after reading this chapbook. Poetry lovers will like it. It is not an easy read, what with the usage of poetic language but it grows on us and slowly permeates our mind, touching our heart.

Take this:

Apology For Leaving You Behind

when the tide goes out and shows your name
rippled in sand where I sang
please understand
I know better

then to bend
my fish bones
and stretch my scaled skin
to flow up through your pipes
to stare
at white foam on your skin

than to think
our single night before I left
was love

but if I'd believed
it was love
to make love

I'd still have my legs


  1. Very very you to absorb poetry, I have to do it slowly...

    if ever you're up for a challenge to your spirituality, read Daniel Meurois's book (all his books have been translated in English) called 'L'évangile de Marie-Madeleine'..yep she also had some things to say...

  2. Thanks for posting both poems. It helps to show a taste of the poet's range.

    The second one is my favorite. It really pulls out both references to the title - the narrating mermaid, and her skepticism contrasted to Mary Magdalen's easy faith.

  3. I truly love the last poem!!

  4. Oh, yeah, I'll be looking for this one! Love the tight writing!

  5. what lovely, haunting images. I'm adding this to my wish list and hoping our library has a copy.

  6. Thank You for introducing me to E.K Switaj. Beautiful flow of words....

  7. Great poems - on subjects I've written about myself, too.

  8. I love both the poems. The images hang around and touch sensitive spots on my bronchial nerve,they also seem to restore certain familiarities, ages old, 'left on some rock’. Thank you so much.

  9. Hi Gautami, effin' brilliant!!!

  10. Funny that I've been writing poems for 10 years now, but it's only in the last year or so that I started really trying to read poetry. Oddly enough, my own poetry has been improving as a result. Someone (a poet, probably) once said, "Write everything. Read everything."
    That's good advice. Thank you for sharing this author with us.
    Three Poems

  11. Very well expressed. I love you (sigh)

  12. Wow! This sounds like a great collection of poems. I wish I could so eloquently discuss poetry.

    Diary of an Eccentric