Tuesday 10 August 2021

Review by Vic Pickup of "Myth ꟾ Woman" by Charley Barnes and Claire Walker

Myth ꟾ Woman speaks of mythology, history, feminine vulnerability and power; each poem is succinct, beautiful and demands revisiting, reflection and deeper exploration.  

Poets Charley Barnes and Claire Walker have sewn their work together to create a strong singular voice which expands on the pre-existing ideas of mer-women, with evocative images and language which draws the reader in, evokes empathy and – somehow – manages to resonate personally. 

The notes at the back of this pamphlet give just enough historical context to aid comprehension and enable the creative work to do its magic. For example, we learn that merfolk appear in some retellings of Noah’s Ark, knowledge which provides the context needed when we read ‘In the beginning,’ so that we can better appreciate the beauty of the first stanza on first reading:  

          It came as a shift in our sky.
          From underwater we saw
          the boiled-sweet shimmer
          of the sun dim in warnings
          and waited as we watched
          the clouds roar through grey to black.

This ominous last line draws upon our prior knowledge of what is to come, enhanced by such gorgeous imagery as the ‘boiled sweet shimmer,’ the lulling rhythm of the ’underwater we saw’ and lovely phrasing such as ‘sun dim.’  

The poem builds and intrigues with elements of sorcery and a kind of mystical power which connects like forces.

          Unrest in its hull prickled 
          our scales … and we knew
          that onboard was a creature
          whose beauty lay mythic as our own.

          We took a vote and rose.

There’s something deliciously sinister about the final line here, and these poets are masterful at conveying a disturbing atmosphere – often using this to allude to male corruption.

In ‘More than this body’ we read about the scientific examination of a mermaid (which, the notes explain, was alleged to have occurred). The poets speak of the subject’s beauty and wonder: 

          … each scale has been cut
          to size the curve of a moon.
          They will have to find a way to preserve them

This troubling line reflects the tone of the poem and suggests the ignorance of the examiners – this specimen being clearly too complex and beautiful for them to understand:

          During their examinations
          they miss how the indent of each rib
          is mimicry for rushing waves – a riptide.

The end of the poem takes a darker turn:

          When her mouth is opened there is a crack
          of bone, then silence.

          But there will always be more than this 
          male-sanctioned quiet -

          she will always be more than this body. 

This poem explores so perfectly the existence and wonder of womanhood (both mer and otherwise), beyond the physical being. Its stanzas reflect the misunderstanding of science, the futile investigations into things we do not understand, the corruption of what is beautiful. 

This pamphlet is rich, awesome, exotic, and dangerous. The collaboration of Barnes and Walker has created a sequence that’s charming and foreboding, asking us to re-evaluate our perception of creatures and characters from the dark depths of the past.  

About the reviewer
Vic Pickup is a previous winner of the Café Writers and Cupid’s Arrow Competitions, and shortlisted for the National Poetry Day #speakyourtruth prize on YouTube. Lost & Found is Vic’s debut pamphlet, published by Hedgehog Poetry Press and featuring Pushcart-nominated poem ‘Social Distancing.’ @vicpickup / www.vicpickup.com

You can read a review of Lost & Found on Everybody's Reviewing here.

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