“Sequined sunlight on waves” – Jared Benjamin’s review of Kristen Garth’s The Legend of Were Mer

Book Review: The Legend of Were Mer by Kristin Garth

Thirty West Publishing House, February 2019. 7 pages. $8.49

Reviewed by Jared Benjamin

Although it’s only five pages of poetry, and seven pages total in length, Kristin Garth’s The Legend of Were Mer reads like a full-length story. A recurring theme in much of Garth’s work, is reinventing the old canon, and bringing it into the 21st century. In this Micro Chap, the poetry tells the tale of a mermaid who is always in longing: longing for a different way of life, longing for a shore instead of a sea, longing for an island instead of a reef. Garth takes the idea of fairy-tale transformations and re-imagines it in a looming shadow rather than in a glowing light.

The storytelling in The Legend of Were Mer moves like the ocean it depicts, flowing from current to current, coast to coast, from bitter start to a bitter end. It starts with the sonnet “Maudlin Mermaid,” A darkly-whimsical intro about a mermaid, who resembles the contrast of nightfall, while the rest of her kind resemble the hue of a sunny day. Garth describes:

 

“Charcoal, her scales, sequined sunlight on waves.

A raven head on rocks she must pretend

to persecute the sailors that she craves.

 

Her sisters swim to join with rainbow tails

and tresses tinged in pink and honeydew

with smiles that spread the closer ships do sail.”

 

Too many times in folklore, mermaids have often been portrayed either as something evil or something immaturely innocent. This is especially why I love it when there are female writers out there, like Garth, who are never afraid to redefine such a world-renown archetype and mold this image into something more complex.

Throughout this piece other poems show the dark price the mermaid pays when she decides to journey elsewhere. Consumed by the elements of the vast unknown plane that is the sea. From a nightfall transformation gone wrong to a capture by coldhearted fishermen, Garth’s Mermaid is the Anti-Ariel in every way. Her fantasy isn’t a travelogue of romance and acceptance, its a path of torment and abuse. And as savage as that may sound, it’s part of the beauty that exists throughout this collection. For, what is beauty without honesty? This piece exhumes in seven pages what it can take many tales to do in over a hundred. And if that is not a collection worth telling one’s grandchildren then I must have forgotten what that entails.

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