Sara Eliot’s song Velvet Skies, feat. Mark Hutin on piano and Ian Peaple on trombone, appears alongside an amazing linocut by Ieuan Edwards in Lines Underwater. Have a listen:
Sara Eliot is a London based poet & singer/songwriter. Her unique sound – soulful vocals with a raspy edge – harmony and a touch of Jazz – delivers smooth lyrical poetry.
If you are interested in the other audio-visual responses to the project, make sure you check out our youtube channel!
We liked Michele Brenton’s photographs because, like Katie Hale’s poem Siren’s Song, they explored the idea of a ‘mermaid’s- eye view’, whereas traditional accounts often present only a ‘sailor’s-eye view’ of the seductive mermaid. Michele writes,
“When I take a photograph I am trying to capture every moment and view I have experienced with that space over an extended period of time. It could be seen as the diametric opposite of cubism as I attempt to concentrate as much as I can into one simple image. This series of images was taken with a waterproof camera, one is completely underwater, four were taken as I trod water after swimming some distance out from the shore and one was taken from a rocky outcrop at sea which I reached by swimming and climbing so I could take the picture looking down at the boundaries between rock, dry weed, wet weed and open sea. All are places intimately known to me and I hoped that the images would give a sense of being surrounded by water and allow me to share the sensual essences which collected make up each individual image. I felt a spirituality of connection to these places and in my humble way I tried to capture the soul of them with my camera and eye and heart.
“Spartia at Dusk is a photograph taken from the sea off Spartia beach on Kefalonia in the Ionian Sea where I lived for three years.”
Michele’s beautiful photograph Spartia at Dusk can be seen in our anthology, and will also be exhibited at Deptford’s Undercurrents Gallery throughout October. Meanwhile, here are five more of her photographs, and a poem A life on the ocean’s wave!
Michele Brenton self-identified as a writer before she was five & now past fifty realises self-identification is a complex, never-ending journey of discovery and surprises. She does not like to imagine what her life would be like without the internet and the people who live in her computer. She hangs out on Twitter at http://twitter.com/banana_the_poet
Sue Wood works as a creative writer in various health care situations. She is widely published in anthologies and journals, including the Forward Poetry Anthology, 2010. Her first collection Imagine yourself as water won a Cinnamon Press Award for Poetry.
Bernd Sauermann has contributed an excellent poem, ‘The Give and Take’, to Lines Underwater. Here, you can read another of his poems, ‘Recessional’. He explains,
“My writing process is, for the most part, mysterious to me. My poems often begin with random lines presenting themselves to me. If a given line catches my attention, I just sort of flap in the breeze behind it in the composition process, often not fully realizing what the poem is going to be about until the poem’s rough draft is fairly complete. Then, in the revision process, I tighten things up, paying close attention to the nuances of words’ sounds and meanings in the context of the poem’s dramatic situation. I’ve been drawn to prose poems lately, partly because the form (or lack of) I think forces readers to focus more exclusively on content and idea, vs. focusing on content and idea as a part of a “poem,” though I guess a “prose” poem is still, ultimately, just another “form” of poetry.”
I float on the warmth of fingers through warm hair. A
future is strung like Spanish moss in the trees, and the
bayou rises to meet the laughter of a woman. Later, a
truce is drawn: I gather moss, and a laughing girl
watches the rain wet my hair. She describes the rain
to me in glances, and I take in her glistening syllables,
someone who used to wallow in a dry heat, the glare
of a red sun setting on a highway receding in the
cracked rearview mirror.
Bernd Sauermann teaches at Hopkinsville Community College in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, and is also the poetry editor at Whole Beast Rag, an online (and sometimes print) journal of art, ideas, and literature. He has poems, stories and photographs published in The McSweeney’s Book of Poets Picking Poets, Southern Indiana Review, New Orleans Review, Nimrod, Poet Lore, The Kansas Quarterly Review of Literature, Leveler, Mad Hat Review, ežRatio, Vinyl Poetry, and many other publications, a chapbook titled Diesel Generator from Horse Less Press, and his first full-length collection, Seven Notes of a Dead Man’s Song, will be published in the coming year by Mad Hat Press.
Christopher Brown’s photograph Mer Bench has just been published in Lines Underwater, our anthology of new artwork and writing that re-envisions mermaid myths for the twenty-first century. One of several works in the anthology that brings the mermaid into the city (another is Kate Noakes’ beautiful poem Melusine at Chatelet which you will have to buy the anthology to read!), Mer Bench will form part of a month-long exhibition of some of the artworks from our project at London’s Undercurrents gallery this October.
The Starbucks symbol, a melusine, is perhaps today’s most commonly-seen mermaid. In Mer Bench, a coffee-cup lid has become mere detritus: a very unfortunate twenty-first century mermaid indeed. For us, the froth in the photograph evoked the myth that, having no souls, mermaids turn into unhallowed froth when they die. It looked to us as if the frothy mermaid had exceeded, and burst out of, her mass-produced Starbucks container!
However, it is the bench that is the true mermaid in this picture. Christopher Brown is one of the only people in the world to have witnessed the activities of a Mer Bench, as he explains in his artist’s statement below.
Mer Bench, by Christopher Brown
(click on the image to enlarge)
“Mermaids tend to live at sea, but Mer Benches are equally at ease in seawater or freshwater (think of them, in that sense, as bi-curious). At night they scuttle off in the water, where they rid themselves of the memories of having been sat on, before returning to their former positions by sunrise.
“Mer Bench is one in a series of photos I took in late 2006, around the lake in central Geneva. It was a chilly, wet morning, so there were very few people about. The exceptionally strong winds meant that the iconic Jet d’Eau had been turned off, and I remember feeling exhilarated as I explored the empty jetties, promenades and playgrounds.
“My gloves were too thick to operate the camera properly, so I had to remove them every time I took a photo. As a result of the bitter cold, my hands were soon red and sore.
“Mer Bench came into being after the wind blew some waves over the promenade, which washed up against a nearby bench, spitting up a coffee-cup lid in the process.
“After I had taken the photo, a peculiar thing happened. In broad daylight, the bench got up, stretched its legs, then headed into the lake for a swim.
“Like me, it must have thought there was nobody else around.”
Christopher Brown is a film director and screenwriter. His feature project ‘Knock-Out’ recently won Best Screenplay at the London Independent Film Festival, and the Cordelia Award for Best UK Screenplay at the LA-based BlueCat contest. His latest short film ‘Remission’ is forthcoming in the autumn. Chris lectures in filmmaking at the University of Greenwich and has published articles in Film Criticism and the Quarterly Review of Film & Video.
Christopher has also donated four more photographs he took on that windy day to our digital collection of mermaid artworks. You can enjoy them below, and check out our online gallery for even more fantastic responses to the project.
Luciana Francis’ beautiful song Canto Para Sereias appears in Lines Underwater. The song is based on a poem she wrote in her native Portugese, and translated especially for us. Have a listen:
Under the waves they roam
Sea, galloping, horses
Rafts slide by unnoticed
Where mermaids pay their visits
And I know that they call
Out for you, and I know that they
Sing to enchant you
Their hair bares curls like waves
Starfish are ever so daring
Alluring sailors to the deep
Promising their invisible kingdom
And I know that they call
Out for you, and I know that they
Sing to enchant you.
Luciana also writes novels and short stories. Below, you can download one of her short stories, Memoria, which, like Phoebe Power’s poem Stella’s Body in our anthology, links a siren-theme with Marian devotion.
Luciana Francis was born Luciana Saldanha in Sao Paulo, Brazil. She moved to London in 1998, where she still resides. She graduated in Anthropology & Media at Goldsmiths College and is currently writing a novella in her native Portuguese.
Polly Atkin’s poem ‘Lake Fever’ appears for the first time in Lines Underwater – an anthology of new art work and writing re-envisioning mermaids in the twenty first century. Here, you can read four more water-themed poems by Polly, as well as her great piece ‘Writ on Water’ in which she explains how water inspires her poetry.
Writ in Water
“I was born and brought up in Nottinghamshire, one of the most landlocked counties in Britain, by two parents who love the sea.
“This is how I came to spend the first weeks of my life by or on water. My arrival four weeks ahead of schedule interrupted the family holiday by the sea in Devon. Instead of changing plans, they accommodated the extra person and carried on. The overwhelming atmosphere of my first weeks was salt air and sand; waves and sea breezes; unsteady footing. The medium of being was water. I spent most of that summer floating on an estuary, neither one place nor another.
“It is this, in my mind, which explains my intense and particular love of water. My need for water. When I don’t swim regularly I dream of it. When I find myself flying in dreams I am really swimming through the thin water of the air. As a child I came to think my very slightly webbed fingers and toes marked me out as the descendant of Selkies – those seal-women who put off their skins for a chance to walk, and love, as a human, and too often find themselves stranded, beached in human form, when their skin is taken from them. It seemed the worst cruelty in the world – not to be able to return to the ocean. I became determined to live by the sea. My best friend and I developed a way to soar underwater we called Mermaid Stroke. I became convinced of my paradoxical nature. I saw myself as a peculiar monster – a big cat happiest in her skin when her fur is scaled.
“For me, a hot day is wasted if it does not include a swim. On land I am clumsy. I trip over my own limbs. I fall off the solid ground. I stumble. My joints are too loosely strung together. When I run I rattle. In the water I am faster, smoother: a completed creature. Comfortable in my body in a way I find rarely, dry.
“At 10 I discovered the wonders of lake-swimming. All that pellucid freshwater; the mountains inverted in the lake surface as you propelled your sleek shape through them. My ideal landscape shifted: there now must be mountains and lakes running down to the permanent sea. I found this in many ways when I moved to the Lake District 2006 to start my phD. I’ve come to think of the Lake District as underpinned, culturally and structurally, not by rock, but by water. It is, as Samuel Baker calls is, essentially ‘a maritime region’. In his Cumbrian poetry, Norman Nicholson conceptualised the fells as constantly tumbling into the ‘sea to the west’.
“This vision – this need for water – to be on it, in it, around it – underpins all my thinking. It appears and reappears in my writing from my earliest childish adventure stories to my latest poems and even my academic work.
‘Lake Fever’ was written during 10 months of self-imposed exile in 2010 as I wrote up my thesis back in Nottingham. It came directly out of a link I made in my academic work between Calenture – a tropical disease believed in Wordsworth’s time to make infected Sailors throw themselves into the waves in an effort to return to their distant homes – and Wordsworth’s descriptions of the inland waters of the Lake District. Alan Bewell describes the Calenture as a kind of pathological homesickness. I began to see in Wordsworth’s work a kind of cold-climate Calenture, a Lake Fever. Then, of course, I diagnosed it in myself.”
Polly Atkin lives in Cumbria. Her poetry has been published widely, recently in Pilot Pocket Book, Magma, Rialto, and 1110. Her debut pamphlet bone song (Clitheroe: Aussteiger, 2008) was shortlisted for the 2009 Michael Marks Pamphlet Award. Her second pamphletShadow Dispatches (Bridgend: Seren, 2013) won the Mslexia Pamphlet Prize 2012. She is happiest in or by water, with the sun on her face.
Debby Akam’s film ‘Girlfish’ is adorning our youtube channel, along with some other excellent works. Debby writes,
‘Girlfish’ induces the ritualistic, meditative mechanisms of travelling between realms, and returning refreshed after connecting with Nature. More at www.debbygary.co.uk
‘Girlfish’ is part of Lines Underwater, an anthology of new artwork, film, audio, prose, and poetry that re-envisions mermaids in the twenty first century. Curious? Get yourself a copy to see!
Phoebe Power’s poem ‘Stella’s Body’ appears in Lines Underwater – get yourself a copy to read it! Here, she explains her inspiration behind the poem, and also lets us read another one of her poems, ‘Clarsach’.
“‘Stella’s Body’ is inspired by the phrase ‘Stella Maris’ meaning ‘Star of the Sea’, an epithet of the Virgin Mary. This beautiful image encouraged me to try to write something that combined the mermaid of folklore with the icon of Mary. For my poem I imagined a woman dense with stars, like a goddess-giant stretched across the ocean.
“A 14th century lyric in English and Latin begins with the phrase ‘of one that is so fair and bright, / Velut maris stella [as the star of the sea]’ (this is set beautifully to music by Benjamin Britten – listen here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b5mYOPhKO38). I don’t speak Latin, but love those words associated with Mary which appear in medieval texts, like integra, effecta, electa, salutis. Even the sound of these words is pure, star-like, almost icy, washed, salty and marine.
“Several of my poems start with a single word or group of words in mind and try to explore the possibilities of their symbolism, sound and feel. This poem takes the word ‘clarsach’, the name of a type of small metal-stringed harp, and gives it a female persona perhaps also obliquely related to an idea of Mary.”
They lift the girl-harp in a hammock
of silver wire not to touch the ground or snap
a clavicle. Her feet are blades
not pedals. They change the key in naturals
and sharps. On the lawn, she tingles
her clitoris, and notes sprinkle with the grass-seed in the air.
Phoebe Power was an Eric Gregory Award winner in 2012 and a Foyle Young Poet in 2009. Her poems have appeared in Magma, Cadaverine and Orbis.
Meredith Knowles’ excellent photograph of a painted turtle, ‘Casin Lake Turtle’, appears in Lines Underwater, an anthology of artwork and writing re-envisioning mermaids in the twenty first century. We liked this picture because it highlighted ideas of evolution and adaptation in the water, and also because the turtle had a very expressive face. Get yourself a copy to see it! Two pictures of Casin Lake, taken by Meredith, can be seen above. Below, she describes how she took the picture and tells how painted turtles got their names – which is a pretty cool story.
Casin Lake Turtle and the story of the painted turtle
“I found this wonderful little turtle in a shallow, weedy, West Michigan lake. My husband and I had earlier seen some turtles swimming in the lake as we rowed across it, and I decided to try and catch one in a small net. After a long hunt, I caught this turtle and took some photos before returning him to the lake. He was very grumpy with us for disturbing his evening swim.
“As I was completely ignorant about this kind of turtle – and any kind of turtle, for that matter – I decided to do some brief internet research. My turtle appears to be a Midland Painted Turtle, if the images on Wikipedia are to be trusted. The most amusing, if not germane, tidbit I learned about this species is that the males possess such long claws so that they may tickle their mates during courtship. Who knows what else these turtles are into.
“During my turtle research I also stumbled across this Native American story about Painted Turtles, which was recorded in 1916 by Truman Michelson for the Illinois Centennial Commission.”
The Painted Turtle
There was a chief, and he had a fine-looking girl. There was a painted turtle, and he fell in love with the chief’s daughter. But he could not come to see her or get to speak to her, because neither the girl nor her parents paid any attention to him. He kept thinking, “How can I win that girl?” And day after day he came, but still they did not notice him. Finally he thought, “If I would paint up, they would notice it and ask me why I painted.” He painted up and went to the chief’s lodge and the girl fell in love with him as soon as she saw him. So he told her to follow him and started off and went to a big river. When she first saw the turtle, she thought it was a human being, but when they got to the water and she saw that it was a turtle instead of a man, she said, “I cannot go any farther with you.” He said, “Come and follow me. You will turn into a turtle the same as I am.” When she went in, she turned into a turtle, but a different kind, a soft shell. Sometimes they name women after this turtle.
“I found this here: http://www.museum.state.il.us/muslink/nat_amer/post/htmls/popups/be_turtle.html
“I like to imagine that all painted turtles are as cunning as the turtle in this curious story, but my experience suggests otherwise.”
Meredith Knowles was born in England but moved to the US two years ago. She now lives in Chicago, IL and takes photographs in her spare time.