Shame is an Ocean I Swim Across by Mary Lambert
Published by Feiwel & Friends on October 23rd, 2018
“I looked over the boat at my reflection in the water.
I looked kind of happy
for someone who was drowning.”
This book wasn’t even on my radar until I saw it on Book Outlet. Only one book reviewer I know had read the book and loved it on Goodreads.
I thought I’d give it a try since I do enjoy reading these poetry collections. They feel so much more accessible than some of the poetry classics. These women write about reclaiming their bodies after trauma, their struggles with mental health, and trying to find their place in this society that places harsh opinions and restrictions on women.
For the most part, I really liked the poems in this collection. They touched upon very dark subject matter. But you can tell Lambert has a gift for writing. It’s evident in her songs too! I think some of her poems would even be better served as song lyrics, such as this line:
“When I take the train from New York,
the landscape undresses for us
We are voyeurs to her dance.”
Even though the world seems to be at odds with this kind of poetry, calling it “Tumblr Speak,” most of these poets are reinventing the form.
Lambert does that with her poem, “Blockbuster Hit! A Girl Cries in Her Hotel Room!” when it’s written in the format of a screenplay.
Another great example in the collection is “Thoughts During Panic.” The words are formatted into an upside down triangle. The poem captures your destructive thoughts as you’re spiralling down during a panic attack. With this particular poem, I flipped to the page and instantly understood what it was trying to do. I hadn’t even read the words and somehow seeing it in that format made sense. That’s exactly what happens during an attack and it all funnels down into one single intrusive thought that plagues you until you exhaust yourself.
Another standout from the collection was “I Wish Powerful Men Would Stop Being Fucking Terrible.” Lambert discusses the #MeToo movement and how once we’ve exposed these terrible men, what happens next? Can we still enjoy their contributions they’ve made to society? Can we ever really separate the art from the artist? And what about the men who haven’t been exposed yet? Will we always wonder if they’re good or they’re just good at hiding their past? It’s something I’ve debated with several different people and nobody can ever come up with an answer.
“and i’m crying because i am not actually myself, or i’m crying because maybe i am myself and that doesn’t feel like enough.”
The line above was something I highlighted because it really resonated with me. And there were several more that stood out to me as things that I’ll reflect back on. That’s the only reason why I gave it 4 bubble teas instead of 5. I fell in love with certain lines rather than whole poems. There were only a few in the collection where I thought the entire poem was a strong piece.
Here are a few poems from the collection that I really enjoyed:
- I Know Girls (Bodylove)
- The Art of Shame
- When I Say Mental Disorder
- Thoughts During Panic
- God Damn You, Sarah McLachlan
- I Wish Powerful Men Would Stop Being Fucking Terrible
- A Poem to Cheer You Up
While I thought this was a beautiful collection, it’s very hard to read and process Lambert’s words. Here’s the CW for you: anxiety, depression, self-harm, rape, incest.
As I learned from Amanda Lovelace’s poetry collections, it’s important to practice self-care when reading about these things. You never know what can trigger you.