Here we are, book three of Amanda Lovelace’s Women Are Some Kind of Magic series. Last year I read The Witch Doesn’t Burn in This One and remarked that it was much more focused than the first book. In her afterword to this book, Lovelace reflects that The Mermaid’s Voice Returns in This One has also shifted focus: now it’s about rebuilding, about healing and moving on from trauma, while also coming to terms with the fact that the trauma will always be a part of herself. This reflection is an accurate encapsulation of the book. As the title implies, this collection is all about celebrating having a voice again.
Tons of trigger warnings for this book, of course—they’re listed in the book, fortunately. You don’t need to read the first two collections, though I highly recommend them.
Perhaps one of the worst things abusers can do (beyond, obviously physically and emotionally abusing someone) is steal someone’s voice, even after the period of active abuse has ended. The victim doesn’t feel capable of sharing their story—or they’re required to share their story over and over, for example during a criminal case, to the point where it might feel like they’ve become just the story. The story becomes the life, rather than just part of a much larger, richer life. One of the key takeaways from The Mermaid's Voice Returns in This One is that Lovelace isn’t just sharing her story, as she did in The Princess Saves Herself in This One: she is actively celebrating the fact that she is now the one making the story, not other people.
I say this, mind you, as someone who hasn’t experienced abuse or trauma like this. Despite my well-documented ambivalence about poetry, however, I think this is one situation where poems are one of the best mediums for communicating these types of experiences. They allow for a freedom of form that the conventions of prose don’t (and I am much harsher towards writers who abuse the conventions of prose than I am to people who experiment with poetry, go figure). Lovelace definitely has a style when it comes to her poems. And that style seems eminently suited to the emotions and substance of her stories. I love how she uses whitespace and the placement of words on the page to emphasize key terms, to draw attention to alternative readings of certain lines. Repetition is also important, both within poems and across poems.
A collection of poetry like this is almost like an album of music: each poem tells its own story and can be read on its own. Read this way, some poems are better than others. Some are stand out singles, while others are a little confusing until you experience them as part of the whole collection, which itself is telling a larger, grander narrative. The choice of mermaid, as with princess and witch prior to that, is an intriguing and deliberate symbol with a variety of meanings for Lovelace and the reader.
The sheer complexity of emotion here is another big hallmark of Lovelace’s style. Some of the poems are a little melancholy or bittersweet. Some are soaring, optimistic. Some are in between. For all the talk of mermaids launching themselves into space, there is a healthy dose of realism in this pages. Lovelace’s voices acknowledge that they aren’t going to be out of the woods forever, that there is no way to firmly close this chapter of their story such that it never returns. This part of their life will be with them forever, and this is just a way of dealing with that.
Also unique to this volume is the inclusion of other poets. I wasn’t expecting that going in, and it’s … okay, I guess? I’m indifferent.
At the end of the day, I continue not really to seek out books of poetry to read. But Lovelace definitely remains one poet whose books work well for me.