Elevate Difference

Magdalene and the Mermaids

After reading Elizabeth Kate Switaj’s collection of poetry Magdalene and the Mermaids, I decided I wanted to know a bit more about her. It turns out that she grew up in Seattle, spent years in Asia teaching English and traveling, lived briefly in Brooklyn, and is now back in Seattle. Movement and change and challenges to identity, which seem to be informed by her movements through the world, run through this book in addition to the themes and ideas of, you guessed it, Mary Magdalene and mermaids.

In many of the poems about mermaids, there is an idea that the speaker is out of place. The poems echo with loss and being misplaced in time or space and not quite being ready for whatever is about to happen. Frequently an image of transformation (scales falling off, tail splitting into legs) pops up and is almost always a painful one. These themes and ideas can resonate with a wide audience. Who hasn’t felt out of place or resented having to move or change?

The book and its themes are inextricably linked to women. Mentions of the moon and ancient connections to the feminine recur. Many of the poems connect with Mary Magdalene's being misunderstood and maligned. She is nearly always portrayed alone and thinking back to the crucifixion, and there is no one there to understand or empathize with her.

The poems don’t need to be read all at once in order to understand the book, but the pieces do link together. The collection of poems is powerful and strongly connected to women.

Written by: Kristin Conard, July 23rd 2009