Title: The Mermaid’s Voice Returns in This One
Author: Amanda Lovelace
Version: ARC – eBook
Page Count: 210
Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing
Notable Notables: Free verse poetry, Feminism
Recommended Readers: Women especially, but men should read this, too, honestly
Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.
It’s been a hot minute since I read The Witch Doesn’t Burn in This One, the second poetry collection in Amanda Lovelace’s Women Are Some Kind of Magic series. While I’ve still yet to read the first book, The Princess Saves Herself in This One, and therefore don’t have the full picture of this journey of growth, The Mermaid’s Voice Returns in This One still delivers on Lovelace’s trademark poetic voice in all its vulnerabilities and harsh truths.
I’ll go ahead and say now that The Witch Doesn’t Burn in This One ranked higher for me simply because I related to its anger, ferocity, and zeal more than I did this collection’s emphasis on trauma and healing. I also enjoyed the former’s greater usage of imagery more, since here, the imagery surrounding mermaids and their returning voice held more of a subtle place than downright literal usage. (I actually felt there was more imagery used with stars than anything else.) But that’s because this collection’s imagery was more figurative, and it encompassed the entire journey, namely that of a woman (or any reader) reclaiming their voice and at last speaking openly about the traumas of their past and how tough the healing journey is.
As the trigger warning at the beginning indicates, Lovelace’s poetry continues to deal with heavy subjects: eating disorders, intimate partner violence, sexual abuse, self-harm, gun violence, and much more. What’s important to note, too, is how these can all transcend genders and traditional expectations and also how the healing process itself can be intensely traumatic.
That latter realization struck me hard as I continued to read through the poems. So many of us view healing as the breath of relief, the sudden calmness after the thunderstorm. Healing is that moment where we let our dark pasts go and start fresh, like a blank canvas bereft of any paint or ink. The truth is, we often don’t realize how ugly and awful healing can be. We don’t think about the regressions, the self-flagellation, the scars made out of reopening old wounds again and again. We don’t think about the lies we tell ourselves that masquerade as healing, so we don’t have to face our pain, and we certainly don’t think about the depression or anxiety we experience because of it.
I’m glad Lovelace was so honest about her healing journey and the many faces it can take. That’s why I can still appreciate this entire work, even though I’m not currently struggling with something so heavy and consuming of myself. Because I know someone who has or is currently going through something terrible. Because I know the history of violence women have had to experience as a collective over the centuries. Because I know that violence extends to other genders, and as a result of that, healing cannot go down easy.
However, the situation is not all doom and gloom. There are plenty of empowering moments, too, and this is one that particularly resonated with me:
who touched me
was not my
– i’m deciding my firsts from now on.
The symmetry of this poem alone is beyond pleasing. Reading it from the top down, it takes us somewhere we didn’t expect, almost to a shocking conclusion. If we’re looking at this sideways pyramid from the bottom up, we can view each line as a stepping stone of sorts. It will obviously be harder to climb these stones if you started from the bottom, just like it was hard for Lovelace to embrace the idea that her so-called “first” doesn’t deserve that honor, that whoever they were didn’t touch her the way she as a human being deserves to be touched: with love and without abuse of any kind. Once she’s discovered this idea, though, that she doesn’t have to conform to society’s definition of “first,” that she can decide that definition instead with all her agency, then the steps become easier to climb, the idea easier to adopt and apply.
For my part, I think it’s a shame that I found “i’m deciding my firsts from now on” to be such a powerful, radical declaration, but that’s the trapping of society, isn’t it? So much emphasis is placed on firsts: first kiss, first date, first anniversary, and then that tired saying, “You never forget your first,” as if the first time you have sex with that one person should matter so exponentially more than any other time, no matter how good or traumatic it was, that you will always remember that person. So I love the pushback this poem gives, that if something or someone wasn’t up to par, it doesn’t get added to my personal historical record. Instead, it gets struck from the record until that first comes along who actually measures up.
Readers are also in store for plenty of other surprises. For instance, I was delighted to see a poem dedicated to Maleficent, one of my favorite villains of all time–and thanks to Angelina Jolie’s performance, one who can also now be considered both a tragic and powerful figure. Lovelace pays homage to other characters and creations, too, such as Medusa, Artemisia in Joy McCullough’s Blood Water Paint, and C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia.
The real standout quality of this particular collection, however, is how Lovelace also reached out to other female poets and included their words and feelings about their own lives and struggles here as well. Readers can expect to find poems, each written gorgeously and earnestly, by poets such as Trista Mateer, Gretchen Gomez, and Nikita Gill. That latter made me clap with excitement because there’s just something about the way Gill writes poetry that truly holds my attention and makes me enamored with it. (And unsurprisingly, her poem was my favorite, but I’m also incredibly biased.)
If you’re on the fence about this one, don’t be. I definitely got a lot out of it. My only suggestion would be for you to maybe not start here if this is your first foray into Lovelace. The Women Are Some Kind of Magic series is definitely a journey, one of a princess-turned-queen-turned-witch-turned-mermaid, and it’s best started at the beginning (and I’ll be taking my own advice about that soon and finally reading the first book).
Above all, I recommend this series for the same reason that Lovelace wrote it: to give victims and survivors courage to tell their own stories. The way Lovelace has chosen to do so was like broken glass: a harsh but beautiful reflection within, but it’s not the only way to tell a story, and may not even be the right way for you. Still, this series can encourage you, embolden you, maybe even help you find your voice. In the end, there’s no wrong or right way to tell a story. Only your way.
take my words,
expand upon them.
argue with them.
– make them yours.
It’s safe to say I’m feeling inspired today. Thanks, Amanda.