Mermaids and Other Devices, by Nell Farrell

Mermaids and Other Devices, by Nell Farrell

I’ve never posted a review about poetry before. It’s not because I don’t like it. It’s just never occurred to me to write about it. Mermaids and Other Devices is an excellent place to start.

Mermaids is special. I first heard the poems, read aloud by the author, around a log fire in a remote corner of the North Yorkshire Moors. Writing retreats are, of course, the perfect place to hear new work, but it wasn’t just the glamour of being away from the world and surrounded by some of my favourite writers. I felt the same reading the poems back home, and even more so hearing them again at one of the pamphlet’s launches, at Mash Guru in Macclesfield, a couple of weeks ago. One of my daughters and my son came with me, and they loved them as well. I’ve read them aloud to my eldest daughter, an art student, who immediately mused about basing work around them. I left them on my sofa with my friend Kate when I had to pop out, and she sent me a text message to tell me that ‘the mermaids are beautiful.’ They really are.

They are also charming and inquisitive and alive, this unnumbered group of sisters who tumble into the narrator’s home and change her world. We follow as they adapt to houses and buses and school without ever becoming assimilated. A tight knit group, certain of their identity, they baffle the outsider-view of the social worker, the speech therapist, the teacher. We are allowed to catch the echo of their voices, “Buccaneer they whisper / Pirate, Prince, fingers and eyebrows dancing, / mouths making shapes they never do when speaking,” but never to know them. The only one who comes close is the narrator herself, and even her connection is tenuous, threaded with the knowledge that their residence is temporary. I challenge you not to feel the tears when the realisation strikes, when she recognises “that they’re bestowing safety, / anticipating farewell.” They’ll be swimming around in your consciousness for days.

The second half spreads its boundaries, taking in a lost circus, an unwilling angel, a librarian who is just about keeping her soul together. Nuns flash through a nighttime conversation with Gerard Manley Hopkins and My Lord Archbishop sends a shudder of dread into a world that is a fusion of Dickens and Angela Carter. We are among outsiders again, some existing more successfully than others. In the final poem, the marvellous Idiolect, the tables are turned as the protagonist recalls how she “soaked up all the yearning / till I oozed like Madame’s famed babas au rhum” before concocting a new self, a domain from which she can call the shots, a sturdy independence which embraces what has gone before without judgement or fear.

I’m not going to say if you only buy one poetry collection this year, make it this one, because I have another recommendation coming soon. Buy this one, though. Love it. Look how much it’s made me smile:


Launch of Mermaids and Other Devices at Mash Guru

Nell reading from Mermaids and Other Devices at her Macclesfield launch

Mermaids and Other Devices is published by the wonderful Moormaid Press, and that’s the place to go for your own copy. You can follow them on Twitter here. And if you have a chance to hear Nell read the poems, grab it.


1 Comment

  1. Sean Lusk
    8 Apr 2015

    Sarah – This is a perfect description of the wonderful, mysterious mermaids and their friends. It is now clear…mermaids rule! Sean

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