Exhibition at the Undercurrents Gallery now open

Thanks to everyone who came to our launch event at The Bird’s Nest on Friday 4 October. We are now open and on display in the Undercurrents Gallery, Deptford, until 30 October, so do pop by (there are also some events planned at the gallery as part of the exhibition).

Here are some photos from the installation:


Thank you to everyone who submitted to us – we are now CLOSED for submissions. We will be in touch with everyone who has submitted by 20 June!

It Is Finished - St Michael's Church, Longstanton

Mermaid cake

It was my birthday at the weekend and, in honour of Poems Underwater, I was presented with this splendid mermaid cake, courtesy of Alice (‘Raddington‘):

Mermaid Cake

Mermaid cake – photo by Raddington

Alice describes over on her blog  how she based the cake on a late medieval mermaid detail from a misericord in Ludlow, Shropshire (pictured below). She had similar problems to Starbucks, albeit with purer intention, since she ended up moving the waist ruffle higher up the torso, thus losing the typically Gothic rounded stomach so central so many medieval nudes. The original was missing an arm, but since mermaids are traditionally depicted with combs anyway, she added one in.

Mermaid carving

The original carving

The carving itself is an interesting companion piece to the Mermaid of Zennor found in St Senara’s church in Cornwall – a much earlier carving depicted on a church bench where, once again, the mermaid is admiring herself in a hand-held mirror. That carving formed part of the inspiration for Martin Kratz and Leo Geyer’s opera as discussed in an earlier post and, here again, the belly is prominently rounded. Both these carvings have something of the medieval marginalia about them – the mermaid is just one more strange hybrid, like those beings you see in illuminations, and perhaps, like those, occasionally an implicit comment on the ‘main text’ she surrounds.

Unfortunately, though, Alice’s cake met a fate as violent as that of Andersen’s Little Mermaid, and ended up cut into pieces.

Mermaid cake

The nervous land

Flammable liquids


People see odd things at Orford Ness. Conspiracy theorists speak of outsiders that were once captured and investigated to death, even as migrant birds are now given the utmost care. Some have seen UFOS. Some think Nazis, after a failed invasion that was hushed up, were killed and buried secretly beneath the shingle. And in the twelfth century, records state that a merman was captured there.

Orford Ness is a nature reserve that used to be a military site for testing ballistics. It is littered with bomb cases welded in explosions, eggs that are the hope of fragile Little Terns, deafening pebbles, unexploded ordnance. Inside the Bomb Ballistics building, described as ‘the nerve centre’ of the military operation, a map shows what could either be a bomb or a flicking mermaid tail disappearing into the sea.

In the mid twelfth century local fisherman described catching a merman in their nets. Rather than exhibiting human features from the waist up and a fish tail from the waist down, the Wild Man of Orford was completely human shaped but covered in scales. He was taken to Orford castle, where the inhabitants experimented on him with the strongest materials they had: transubstantiated bread and wine, emetics, purgatives. When they took him out to sea to display his ability to swim he escaped, leaving a frayed rope end trailing after him. In some stories, he was never seen again, though some people say he waits to grab unwary children from Orford quay. In others, he swam right back to the fishermen a few months later and this time their maltreatment killed him.

Now bare, Orford castle was requisitioned by the military at one point; they installed radar equipment on its roof. Imagine a wild man today hooded, the application of flammable liquids, electricity, bombs. Wires splay all over the shingle, like nerves stretched and pulled, ropes frayed and letting free.

Covered in washedup items, the tide line makes half hearted demands on the body. A single broken shoe, a saw handle with no blade, one earpiece from a set of headphones.  But in the streams near the beach there are hundreds of frogs, happy on both land and water. Their skins are seamless, no sharp line cuts them in two.

Visit to Orford and Orford Ness

Writing poems underwater

To start the project off we will be visiting three locations – a shrine, the site of a merman’s capture, and the place where two rivers once got married – and creating poetry and art work based on this. We’ll also be posting about mermaid-related things, as well as showcasing a few modern poetry and other fiction books to do with the sea. If you would like us to review your book  please get in touch with us! We hope this inspires you to get started with your own contributions!

Please visit the ‘about‘ page to learn more about the rationale behind the project, and its authors.