Book Review: Swim With Me In Deep Water by Penny Sharman
Swim With Me In Deep Water by Penny Sharman is a collection of mesmerising verse. This debut conjures magic that beckons readers into the deep tidal pool of wonder. Section headings like Cerulean Slumbers and Violet Oceans encourage me to leave what I know about the world behind me. I step into the unknown with Sharman as my guide.
“I can’t smell this world today.
There’s just the noise of wings beating,
a butterfly’s bother against a blackcloth of night.”
–Sightless, Penny Sharman, Swim With Me In Deep Water
Slowing down is not easy. But, I believe it is necessary for thorough contemplation. This is something I work on continuously. I forget. I speed up and all of my senses collide with each other. But, what if I were to remove one of them to heighten the others. When I sit outside and close my eyes, I turn up the volume on nature. Gradually, I find that I also turn up my internal volume. I can hear my breath and even the ticking of my mind. I have time to consider who I am/who I am not.
However, I don’t often find the answers. I find more questions. Sharman’s poem, Sightless, bulges with the possibility of self. It slows down, breathes in nature with refreshing lyricism and entwines the vine of narrative that is the human struggle. She asks, who am I? Where do I belong? How do I fit? What will happen ‘if’? A verse meditation, this poem puts me on immediate pause and asks for stillness.
Landscapes of the Past
“You boxed me up,
fastened between each
slat of wood that made a
fortress of the marriage bed.
Only the waders, the herons
and oystercatchers heard
my chains rattle. Only the
porpoise tasted my salted tears.”
–Blue-green Shed, Penny Sharman, Swim With Me In Deep Water
It is one thing to tell a story of survival. It is quite another to show it. This breathtaking poem situates me at the feet of a storyteller by lamplight. My head is cocked and I listen and nod in solidarity. I hold my tongue. Though I identify with the tale of great expectations and promises set out like bait, our stories diverge in landscape. I share much in common with this narrator and it is heartbreaking. One of the most difficult parts about surviving domestic violence is that often people aren’t aware it is happening to victims. We are skilled at putting on a brave face and offering clever explanations.
When life is about survival, there isn’t time for details. These details come years later in the form of reflection. Her poem echoes in my mind. Who heard my chains rattle? Perhaps it was the lobsters in their chilled, salted cages. Did they bob in solidarity at our shared confinement? Sharman speaks of mind-blowing views, changing tides and being held cosy tight. It is a stroke of brilliance that as the poem continues these once positive remarks turn murky and sinister. This is the magic of a deftly tossed coin, offering us both sides of life in an instant.
The Small Things
“Jack can pick you up,
make you free again;
I can’t even look at you.
I know about your powers,
your spinnerets, the beauty
you weave every day.”
–Spider, Penny Sharman, Swim With Me In Deep Water
Last week, I took a shower with a spider. More than one, in fact. Showers, not spiders. Let’s not get carried away. I saw her crawling about near the top of the tile and I felt mesmerised. I’ve never been much afraid of spiders, which might be due to my early fascination with E.B. White’s, Charlotte’s Web. As I soaped and scrubbed I watched her delicate spider legs dance, I wondered if I should help her outside the window. But, perhaps she wanted to be here and why was it up to me where a spider spins her web anyway?
When I saw this lovely creature, I immediately thought of this poem, Spider, and went back to it again. What I love about Sharman’s poetry is that she seems to carry this magnifying glass, adept at capturing the details and enlarging them until I can think of nothing else. Her verse reminds me of a quote from Georgia O’Keeffe, “Nobody sees a flower – really – it is so small it takes time – we haven’t time…”.
O’Keeffe went on to say that she painted her flowers as if her hands were cupped around them and so the petals became a viewer’s entire world. Sharman’s verse strikes me as similar. I feel that she is whispering in my ear about this spider until I can hear nothing else. There are whispers about fear and wonder and the power of creation. It is impossible for me to view a spider now without thinking of her words: “…how we create who we are/from inside our orb webs.”
How do I create and re-create myself anew? Perhaps I need to ask the spider in the shower.
Swim With Me In Deep Water by Penny Sharman is a triumphant debut collection. We are tossed on the shore with all of the seaglass and samphire. She tumbles us in and out of tides that seek a greater understanding for this merging of human and nature. We are nature and it is us, it is impossible to tell where one space ends and another begins. Sharman has a lyrical way of opening the world up, tilting it for a new perspective and offering up unforgettable poetic vistas.
Penny Sharman’s debut poetry collection, Swim With Me In Deep Water, was published by Cerasus Press in 2019. Copies of this book are available direct from the author at her website: Penny Sharman: Poet and Photographer
About the Author
PENNY SHARMAN is a poet, photographer, artist and therapist. Her debut Pamphlet Fair Ground was published in March 2019 by Yaffle Press. Her first collection Swim with Me in Deep Water was published by Cerasus Poetry in July 2019. Both of these books are available for purchase through her author website. Her second collection has been accepted by Knives, Forks and Spoons and is scheduled to be published in Autumn 2020.
She has participated in many poetry courses and groups over the years and has an MA in Creative Writing from Edge Hill University in Ormskirk. She has had over one hundred poems published in magazines and anthologies such as The North, Ink, Sweat & Tears, The Interpreters House, Strix, Obsessed with Pipework, Coast to Coast to Coast, Beautiful Dragons, Marble Poetry, Poetry Quarterly and Orbis. She is also the resident artist at The High Window Press and has a chapter included in Leonora Carrington: Living Legacies published at Vernon Press.
About the Publisher
CERASUS POETRY launched in November 2017 as a joint venture in association with ABCtales to assist selected members to collate, edit and publish their poetry collections as quality paperbacks and e-books, which are available to buy from major online retailers as well as directly from Cerasus.
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