Shame Is An Ocean I Swim Across by Mary Lambert
Publishing Details: Feiwel & Friends, October 2018
Back-of-the-Book Summary: Beautiful and brutally honest, Mary Lambert’s poetry is a beacon to anyone who’s ever been knocked down—and picked themselves up again. In verse that deals with sexual assault, mental illness, and body acceptance, Ms. Lambert’s Shame Is an Ocean I Swim Across emerges as an important new voice in poetry, providing strength and resilience even in the darkest of times.
When I first heard Mary Lambert was releasing a book of poetry, I knew I needed to read it. The cover is beautiful, the title is perfect, and honestly, my first thought when I finally bought the book was “Oh yeah, this is gonna fuck me up.”
What I Liked:
Everything. Seriously. But because this is a book review and not a diary entry, I will try to explain what exactly it is that I love about literally everything in this book. First, the titles of her poems are exquisite. “Jesus Loves My Crop Top,” “I Am Asking You To Be a Crowbar,” and “Depression is Finding a Peanut Under Your Boob in the Shower, When You Don’t Remember Eating Peanuts” are just some of my favorites. They’re witty in the precise way that shame makes a person witty. It’s impossible for you to to come straight out with your feelings, even in a book of poetry, because you’ve been trained to be ashamed of them, so you make a little joke to make everyone feel more comfortable. The titles of these poems call to me on a spiritual level.
Second, the flow of Shame Is an Ocean I Swim Across is perfect. Lambert deals with a lot of heavy stuff pretty directly, and even though it sometimes felt like she was taking the words directly out of my own shame-brain, all that heavy stuff can make a book hard to read sometimes. Lambert doesn’t shy away from difficult topics, but she does understand how to pace them so that the reader can fully absorb and appreciate them without getting overwhelmed and simply putting the book down.
Third, the shame she mentions in the title is truly the theme of each and every poem in some way, but it never gets repetitive or heavy-handed. Shame is such a multifaceted monster, so in a way it makes sense that she could publish an entire book about it, but it takes an incredible amount of self-awareness and vulnerability to present that shame in so many of its different forms the way Lambert does.
Finally, I simply love the way Lambert approaches poetry. She doesn’t quite write in the brief, earnest snapshots made popular by Rupi Kaur, but her writing is still accessible and open in a way that much contemporary poetry isn’t. This book isn’t just for “poetry people”—it’s for people dealing with their own personhood and working to accept, and even love, who they are.
What I Disliked:
I promise I’ll stop doing this someday when I start reading worse books, but I honestly can’t think of anything I disliked about Shame Is an Ocean I Swim Across. Maybe I should be more discerning, but I don’t see anything wrong with calling a spade a spade, and the fact is, I really loved everything about this book.
You Might Like This Book If…
- …you deal with internalized shame and want to see your feelings poured out onto the page
- …you love Mary Lambert’s music and want to see what her poetry is all about
- …you’re looking to get into the poetry scene but you’re kind of intimidated and want to start with something you’ll understand and appreciate
- …you’re already in the poetry scene and you’re looking for an amazing new voice