Salmacis: Becoming Not Quite a Woman by Elizabeth Train-Brown

It’s always good to discover new to me authors and my thanks go to Will Dady of Renard Press for sending me a copy of Salmacis: Becoming Not Quite a Woman by Elizabeth Train-Brown in return for an honest review and for inviting me onto the blog tour. I’m delighted to share my review of Salmacis: Becoming Not Quite a Woman today.

Salmacis: Becoming Not Quite a Woman was published by Renard press on 31st August 2022 and is available for purchase here.

Salmacis: Becoming Not Quite a Woman

As recounted by the Roman poet Ovid, a young nymph, Salmacis, one day spied Hermaphroditus bathing; consumed with passion, she entered the water and, begging the gods to allow them to stay together, the two became one – part man, part woman.

An Eclectic Pagan, for Elizabeth Ovid’s fables are more than fiction, and form a framework for exploring identity. Drawing on the rich mythological history associated with the tale of Salmacis and Hermaphroditus, and re-examining the tale through the lens of metaphor, Salmacis: Becoming Not Quite a Woman is a stirringly relatable and powerful exploration of gender, love and identity.

this is my lake salmacis, and i am the wild nymph

with a hollow in her belly and nothing between her legs

My Review of Salmacis: Becoming Not Quite a Woman

A slim volume of 25 poems.

Salmacis: Becoming Not Quite a Woman is an intriguing and often visceral collection that challenges reader perceptions and leaves them thinking long after they’ve read the words.

I found Elizabeth Train-Brown’s language powerful and quite violent with several references to red, blood, screaming and difficult physical experiences so that the raging against patriarchal control as in gods, monsters and complex ptsd, is felt almost physically by the reader. I also discovered on my second reading of the anthology that these works feel even more passionate when they are read aloud.

It was fascinating that there is only one upper case letter in the entire collecting in the very last entry and that it is for ‘Being’, because I thought Salmacis was entirely about being. About being who we are expected or forced to be. About being who or what others expect of us, about being afraid, enraged and lost, and about being ourselves. What Elizabeth Train-Brown does is to make the reader question accepted norms and how the readers perceive themselves, and others around them, with images of blood, moons, seas and the natural world, from mythology from gods to selfies, and cutting, bleeding and knives. Indeed, Salmacis is not an easy read because although there are tender moments, much feels disturbing and and almost displacing.

That displacement is also conveyed by the physical appearance of the poetry, where white space shows hesitation or thought and the lack of full stops in 3 a.m. voice notes in snapchat, for example, illustrates to perfection the very stream of consciousness, the unstoppable flow of poetic ideas, that the author is describing. I loved the gaps in writing is easy as breathing because they show the poet’s own hesitation, they surprise the reader when the line is completed and they engage the reader completely, giving sufficient pause for them to supply their own suggestion mentally before finding what has actually been written. This creates a feeling of connection between poet and reader.

Salmacis is challenging, thought provoking and elusive. I have no idea whether my interpretation matches the writer’s intention and that, for me, makes the collection all the more intriguing. Read Salmacis for yourself to see if you agree. I can guarantee you won’t be left unmoved or unaffected!

About Elizabeth Train-Brown

Elizabeth Train-Brown is a poet and writer whose work has been published internationally in various anthologies and journals. Their journalism on discrimination, asexuality, transgender issues and polyamory has also received widespread recognition. Outside of writing, Elizabeth follows in her parents’ footsteps as a circus performer and fortune teller. Salmacis is their first collection.

For more information follow Elizabeth on Twitter @BethTrainBrown or Instagram.

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