THE BOOK: Re-SURGE.
PUBLISHED IN: 2021
THE AUTHOR: Mary Newell.
THE EDITOR: The book did not have an overall editor; people who gave input on particular poems include Stacey Balkun, Jeffrey Levine, Ruth Danon, Kristina Marie Darling, and members of two poetry exchange groups.
THE PUBLISHER: Trainwreck Press is a small Canadian press that features innovative writing.
SUMMARY: Within a narrative that draws on a mermaid tale interwoven with ecological issues, Re-SURGE portrays characters emerging from challenging experiences to find new vitality, to “surge” on. The topics include personal and ecological loss, awkward embodiment, recovery from trauma, and finding/ recovering one’s voice. I see the book as a life-healing narrative, for those who immerse in its flows for a while and interpose their own life stories.
The Re-SURGE narrative begins by rewriting “The Little Mermaid,” which is grim in the original Grimm Brothers version: http://www.fijihosting.com/dload/grimms_fairytales.pdf.
Meli, the mermaid, sacrifices her tongue for the possibility of capturing the heart of the prince whose life she saved. The second main character, Jenn, is a gardener and writer who fears drowning. Jenn’s challenges around speaking are not so obvious, but there are hints of hard-to-digest past experiences. In their intertwining, the two characters learn from each other. Meli’s transformation into human form traverses the swamp of awkward body image. And what can happen after such a major transformation? What takes the place of unrealizable dreams – the charming prince, who is after all a leftover stereotype? The denouement of the book suggests inter-and cross-species connections and appreciation of the wondrous enfolded within the everyday. Although deep water was a location of trauma for both women, differently, they can reengage with this fundamental element by dancing at the water’s edge – a basic affirmation of the life within and all around.
THE BACK STORY: I spent a year, give or take, on the book. Although this is a short book, its several roots are deep in my life. It incorporates experiences that women I know have passed through and some personal history, alongside larger ecological issues. The mermaid story bothered me since I first read it in childhood. It ignited a proto-feminist sensibility and a sense of justice. Why, just because a prince wouldn’t marry her, did the mermaid have to disappear into foam? I had an early injury that caused me to feel asymmetrical and awkward; I ran with a limp and had a corresponding sense of incapacity, in spite of succeeding at school, etc. I’m sure that experience is part of what motivated me to become a practitioner of the Feldenkrais Method, a mind-body modality that relates to the whole person, not just the physical symptoms. I see Re-SURGE as a narrative about healing from one’s past, not by denial but through creative, embodied reconfiguration. And not forgetting the planet that needs healing too.
Why poetry and not a straightforward story? Sometimes indirection gets underneath the skin in a way that narrative may not. I wanted to tell many interwoven stories, not just one; and then, I enjoy giving attention to the language and meter and other elements of poiesis. It puts a demand on readers to leap across or fill in the blank spaces – but most readers will have their own life material to interfuse, and in that way, they can make parts of the story their own.
WHY THIS TITLE?: The narrative is about re-emerging from what swamps or suppresses you – not just surviving but surging – challenging gravity and entropy to live with full vitality.
WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? I thought the book would appeal to women who’ve had parallel experiences; to people considering or enacting gender changes; to mermaid and shoreline aficionados; and to ecologically oriented readers, for starters. (Now that crowd would make a good party!)
“Always a startle, the way Newell uses language so intensely, such unexpected words and combinations. A glitterpath to a completely new view. Giving us fins roots wings. Joy in vol, Deep intake, As we Lunge into spacious.
“I especially like the lines, ‘I see clearly who I’m clinging to.’” — Fran Shaw, writer
“In Re-SURGE, Mary Newell’s liquid undertones and songs of loss haunt quiet inquiries, and lay in astute assembly a terrace of hushed fluidity. Through flux and current, what can only grow from having spent a long time with water knowledge, carries the shifting balance of voices and bodies losing parts to the sea. Without sound land or guide, Newell’s voices astray in swell, take in like water, an invocation of internal, weightless, sonorous drift.” — Jennifer Spector, author of Hithe.
“Mary Newell’s ‘Re-SURGE’ brings us into the elemental realms of the physical and the sea-immersed. Land and water become the two surfaces for a transfiguration of both verbal and emotional revelations. In the unforgettable voices of Jenn and Meli, these poems explore the body and mind as they revel and reveal stories of their individual plights, and yet share a singular renewal of being. Their epistolary communications provide a breathtaking context for poems that urge us to consider memory, imagination, and identity. Beautiful and enticing in its forms and images, ‘Re-SURGE’ asks us to consider how the body can be both cage and harbor; in doing so, these poems provide what the best poetry does: Language as illumination.” — Philip F Clark
Writing website: https://manitoulive.wixsite.com/maryn
My occupations: I am a writer and editor; a teacher at college and workshop venues; and a guild-certified practitioner of the Feldenkrais Method of Somatic Education with an extensive background in mind-body approaches toward wellbeing. As a Feldenkrais practitioner, I work with individuals and groups to facilitate entering more fully into embodied being. This engagement feeds into my perspective as a writer. I try to deepen my understanding of life and its sources through a life-long spiritual practice. In free time, I garden on rocky slopes at wood’s edge, planting for pollinators, who need all the help we can offer.
My previous chapbook, TILT/ HOVER/ VEER is available at <https://www.codhill.com/product/tilt-hover-veer-mary-newell/> and bookshop.org.
My essay “When Poetry Rivers” (Interim journal 38.3) is at https://www.interimpoetics.org/383.
I am co-editor of Poetics for the More-than-Human-World: An Anthology of Poetry and Commentary and the forthcoming (2022) Routledge Companion to Ecopoetics.
I curate the Hudson Highlands Poetry Series.
Poetry Readings in 2021 include
Ecopoetics Writing Group reading, December 4, 2021 https://youtu.be/y3B9HX_lNO0>. Readers are in alphabetical order.
Helsinki U. Environmental Humanities Month Ecopoetry reading November 17, 2021
Live reading from Re-SURGE < https://www.crowdcast.io/e/1vtuted8> August 21.
This was an outside reading and sound quality is limited.
Plants and Poetics panel through Kelly Writers House, March 31, 2021: <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pCSoDITUJHQ>, around minute 50.
AUTHOR COMMENTS: Ecological concerns preoccupy many of us. How to face this music? I chose to try and create a sense of interconnectedness through the medium of water, which makes up 60% of our mass and surrounds the continents we live on. It carries a heavy toxic load now, in the oceans and in many of our bodies. Yet we can still honor the air and water that sustain us, and let that honoring encourage us to be mindful in our actions.
BONUS: There were two poems I had to leave out of the book, to keep it to 30 pages. I’ll be happy to send them to anyone who buys the book and emails me at firstname.lastname@example.org with purchase receipt.
SAMPLE: Because it is a narrative, individual poems cannot give the full impression. Here are three poems with very different tonalities to give a taste.
Adrift in undrinkable waters
“Between words and deeds there is a sea”
— Angela Merkel
As a toddler, bewitched by
starfish, a rip tide almost
carried me away. Safe arms
surrounded tumbling hollers.
“Almost” is a long way from
drowning. Sand in the mouth,
sea vomit, limbs flailing —
then home to lap of comfort.
Distant calamites trouble calm
attempted rescues, urgencies:
salt/ famish/ heatstroke/ topsize
Ocean swallows without a burp.
Arms can’t reach through
a newscast to help those
stripped from home land
who risk the turbulent vault
The ocean tantalizes.
Seduced by its rhythmic pulse,
I forget undertow, dead zones,
toxic cargo permutating cells.