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(Re)-defining survivor/victim stories: a review of amanda lovelace’s new poetry collection

Book cover of amanda lovelace’s “the mermaid’s voice returns in this one

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In honour of amanda lovelace’s latest poetry collection the mermaid’s voice returns in this one, this post will be purple.

When I saw that there was an advanced reading copy for amanda lovelace’s last poetry collection in her series “women are some kind of magic” I was extremely excited. I first found lovelace’s work through a friend of mine who kindly gifted me the first book in the series.

Her first book in the series is probably my favourite as it came to me at a time when I needed to be reminded of my own strengths and abilities. The collection of poetry is something I often return to in times of struggle and I find lovelace’s words comforting and uplifting.

Her third collection aligns with her previous works and centres on themes of self (re-)discovery, how to find your own voice again, and the struggle with remembering and letting go of the past. The four part collection (the sky, the shipwreck, the song, and the surviving) starts, interestingly, with a swan song—which comes from the ancient Greek belief that swans sang beautiful songs as they died. Whilst this is the last book in her series, I doubt that this will be the last we will here from lovelace. This swan song, therefore defies narrative norms where the end—the swan song—is actually just the beginning.

lovelace’s honesty and poetic style proffer the question again and again, How do we come to terms with the past? On the one hand, talking about the past is vital to heal, yet on the other hand it can be extremely dangerous in that the past can creep into the now and take over our present and future selves. Healing also just takes a lot of time and it isn’t easy. With poetic lines like when will it be my turn to be “the gem/ of the deep/ not the rubble of pompeii” (p36) we see the way lovelace contemplates healing, learning, and growing from the past, but also being frustrated with how long everything takes.

Throughout the collection, lovelace also twists the meanings and narrative conventions of traditional fairytales and love stories like The Little Mermaid and Romeo and Juliet. She looks for new meanings and interpretations as well as coming up with alternative endings. In doing so, she asks the reader to question the status quo and to also demand different endings for themselves. Her poetry is also helpful in the way that it reminds the reader to trust their instincts and to learn “how to/ recognize/ the warning/ flares” of toxic and dangerous people. Her new alternate interpretations of tried and true stories therefore, goes a step further by asking the reader to be aware of not just toxic people, but also toxic narratives.

lovelace slips between first and third person blurring the lines of self and other as she recounts some of her past. By doing so she distances herself from her experiences, but also takes hold of her own narrative. Her musings on the terms victim/survivor and which one is more ‘appropriate’ also ties in with the ending of her collection where she states that there is no one way to be a survivor/victim. Often times, people can be both and that is okay. She embraces the multifaceted nature of her identity and this is accentuated throughout the (re-)telling of her own stories.

In the last section of her collection, lovelace mixes the poetry of other authors with her own and creates a mini-anthology of survivor stories. By including these new voices she further reinforces the idea that there is no one way to remember, survive, or talk about assault. And in the final pages of the collection she asks the reader to “take my words,/ but/ expand upon them.” in her poem ‘- make them yours.’ (p171).

Overall, lovelace’s poetry is important in a time of #MeToo where more and more people are talking about sexual violence and stigma. I still believe that her first collection in the series was her best, but I can also appreciate the way that each poem builds on the ones from before creating new meanings and interpretations of remembering trauma.

Are you a fan of poetry? Will you be picking up lovelace’s poetry collection when it hits the shelves? As always, share the reading love.

NOTE: This novel was was accessed through Netgalley and Andrew McMeel Publishing for review purposes. Expected publication is 5th March 2019.

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