Medusa Retold by Sarah Wallis

My enormous thanks to Isabelle Kenyon for sending me a copy of the chapbook Medusa Retold by Sarah Wallis in return for an honest review. I am not supposed to be taking on new blog material but I love poetry and have always been so impressed by Fly on the Wall‘s publications that I simply couldn’t resist.

You’ll find a performance of Medusa Retold here.

Published by Fly on the Wall Press on 1st December 2020, Medusa Retold is available for purchase here.

Medusa Retold

A feminist retelling of the Medusa myth, set in a run-down, modern seaside town, Medusa Retold is filled with the magic and fury of the original tale.

In this telling, loner Nuala is difficult and introverted, fascinated by creatures of the sea. Athena becomes her best friend and first crush, and together they form a duo which is ripped apart by circumstance, leaving Nuala unprotected, unable to save herself.

A long-form poem of poignant motifs which recur throughout, the poem is a mythic puzzle, an epic for ordinary girls, and a love letter to the sea.

My Review of Medusa Retold

Medusa Retold is a small book that packs a punch. Sarah Wallis takes the character of Medusa from Greek mythology and blends the traditional expectations of that story into a new, fresh and modern narrative poem about a strong young woman, Nuala, who has relevance to today’s society and yet embodies elements of the traditional Medusa tale so effectively.

I thought the quality of Sarah Wallis’s writing was excellent. The serpent like sibilance of the letter s as Nuala begins her journey gives a sinister effect and ensures the Medusa image of snakes lurks menacingly in the periphery of the reader’s mind, creating a feeling of unease in the reader. The same technique helps create the susurration of the sea that is so important a motif in this poetry so that Medusa Retold is an auditory experience as well as a reading one and indeed, all the senses are catered for in this poetry. The iterative image of the sea is beautifully woven through the writing. The power of the sea fades at the point where Nuala feels her life is over following Athena’s death, and its absence impacts the emotions of the reader as they experience Nuala’s loss with her.

I thought it fascinating how the internal rhyme of the poetry becomes stronger and more apparent later in Medusa Retold when Nuala is constrained in a relationship that confines her, so that the structure of the writing mirrors its meaning. The italics of Nuala’s first person sections contrasts with the third person narrative of the rest of the poetry making for an intimate insight into Nuala’s innermost thoughts and a highly effective means of affecting the reader’s perceptions. I loved the fact that towards the end, Nuala’s first person narrative is then no longer italicised. It felt to me that although her body may be destroyed, her spirit had strengthened and would live on. I actually found this very moving.

There’s an ambiguity to the ending of Medusa Retold that I loved. I hope Nuala manages to fulfil her desire because in a few brief pages I felt I had come to know her thoroughly. She comes from water and ends in ethereal air making her a motif for all women.

I’m sure some readers will shy away from poetry but I think they are missing a vivid experience here. Medusa Retold might be a chapbook of only a few pages, but it is a truly fascinating read.

About Sarah Wallis

Sarah Wallis is a poet and playwright based in Scotland. She has an MA in Creative Writing from UEA and an Mphil in Playwriting from Birmingham University. Theatrical residencies include Leeds Playhouse and Harrogate Theatre. Her stagework includes Laridae and work for Leeds Fringe including The Scarecrow Child and A Stage of One’s Own.

Recent publications include The Interpreter’s House, Selcouth Station, Thimble and Ellipsis with work forthcoming from Lunate, Eyewear – Best New British & Irish Poets 2019 -20 – and her chapbook from Fly on the Wall Press, Medusa Retold is out in December 2020.

For more information, follow Sarah on Twitter @wordweave or visit her website.

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