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  • Writer's pictureBelle Kenyon

Why Under the Sea is Essential Reading this Summer

Under the Sea is Issue Ten of the Fly on the Wall Magazine, concluding a series that has drawn authors from across the world together to create a poetry, art, flash fiction, and short story collection. This blog post will celebrate the hard work and talent of our diverse pool of writers, their differing literary styles, and their many interpretations of this theme. So unpack your swimsuit, slather on some sunscreen, and get prepared to be transported under the sea.

Rottingdean by Helen Kennedy:

This poem explores the changing nature of women’s bodies, particularly in relation to becoming a mother, and suggests that this change is as inevitable as the passage of time or the ebb and flow of the sea. The soft sibilance present throughout is reminiscent of the sea lapping against the shore:

‘Women’s bodies were soft like sugar kelp,
adapted to live on exposed shores.
Bioluminescent breasts
and hollow limbs grown on shells.’

Hawthorn Hive by Satterday Shaw:

This snippet of flash fiction explores the seaside through the lens of environmentalism. There is strong imagery of the sea reclaiming the land throughout, acting as an all-consuming force devouring the villages full of miners and glassblowers who polluted its landscape.

The use of colour is vivid throughout, with ‘The beach was black. The sea was black.’ juxtaposed against ‘X and Y are picking up bricks, orange, terracotta, pink, black and yellow.’ This conjures up the image of a colourful pair against a monochrome backdrop, the landscape around them dying due to pollution whilst the sea levels ominously rise in the background.

The Weight of Water by Zoë Green:

This short story explores the cracks in the marriage between husband Steve and wife Laura. These cracks deepen when they meet his university friend Miriam to snorkel and dive around Israel, with her presence and the sea further dividing husband and wife.

The fact that Steve prefers to dive beneath the sea, whilst Laura prefers to sunbathe on land, neatly illustrates the differences between husband and wife. As such, the sea both literally and metaphorically divides the couple throughout, behaving much like a background character and backdrop:

‘Her husband swimming out from a crack between the rocks behind [Miriam]. He was waving too. All that weight of water between them. She waved back. Waited for them to come up and join her. [...] She floated face down, hands and legs akimbo. Steve turned on his back, mirroring her. All that water, tons and tons, between them.’

Seafood Buffet by Hannah Brown:

This snippet of flash fiction explores the escape of a sea creature with a vendetta against humans, and the one human who is an exception to this rule. The use of the first-person narrative creates a sense of intrigue throughout, as the reader attempts to figure out who the narrator is, and just what they are capable of. When this is revealed, the intimate narrative acts as a narrative hook to reel the reader into the dark depths of the morally-grey protagonist. A dark reimagining of mermaid and siren folklore, it reads like the beginning of a horror novel:

‘I am free.

I float, like I never forgot how, drifting towards the surface like a promise of retribution. Those that sealed me down here are long gone now. None as longevous as I.

I crest the waves in a sop of wet red hair, push water out of my long-dormant lungs and cry in my prettiest voice.

‘Help me!’’

Grandfather Salamander Resists Eviction by Sarah Wallis:

This poem explores the shifting landscapes under the sea, and how underwater tourism from humans interferes with the habitats of aquatic animals. The framing of the narrative from the cantankerous point of view of an elderly salamander creates more empathy in the reader, as these grandfatherly qualities humanise the animal:

‘Swim of living fossil, some grandfather
of the underworld, a lazy Mafiosi, blinking
at intrusion under the scuba mission light,
feels vibrations from the talking fish mask,
mer-curious in his house—
and doesn’t like rude light, don’t they know
it’s twilight time in the sea gardens?’

Endurance by Lorraine Carey:

This poem explores the doomed voyage of the Endurance vessel, which sank during the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition in the Weddell Sea near Antarctica in 1915. Fortunately, all of the crew survived and went on to be rescued in 1916. The wreckage of the Endurance was discovered in March 2022, and miraculously remains in good condition nearly 10,000 feet beneath the sea.

The repetition of the sentences ‘Endurance was the name it had to be’ and ‘Destined for the depths of the Weddell Sea.’ throughout behave much like rhyming couplets bookending the beginning and ending of each verse, whilst underscoring the vast journey this ship undertook.

Mereswine by Gerry Stewart:

This poem explores the critically high risk of extinction faced by the Baltic Harbour Porpoise, which remains the only whale in the Baltic Sea. There are many threats faced by porpoises, such as overfishing of their prey, environmental pollutants in their habitats, or becoming tangled and drowning in fishing nets, each of which is delicately explored across each verse:

‘Invisible boundaries cannot repair hindsight,
though we swim alone
we hear through the deep
the ticking pulse
of our eventual vanishing.’

Breaching Whale by Gerry Stewart:

This poem explores the simple joys of a breaching whale diving out of the sea, and the unique perspective of a mammalian animal that lives in the water yet requires air to live.

‘We do not dance for you,
but from our joy
of being one with the sea,
a part of its pull and power
and in the hope that some day
you will understand.’

Whispers to the Baltic Sea by Gerry Stewart:

This poem is a love letter to the Baltic Sea in Northern Europe, a brackish water basin notable for its smoother currents, much like the Black Sea. The rhetorical interrogatives and second person address throughout personify the sea, almost as if the narrator is having a conversation with its smooth waters:

‘Why so silent?

Why do your waves not sing?

Other seas
Tuck their salt into our mouths,
Shout their charms
And splash about.

Your stories
Are held deep,
Colder than black,
Blacker than cold.’

Becoming Krill by Rupert Locke:

This poem explores feelings of making yourself smaller to fit within a relationship, much like a krill in the vast ecosystem of the sea. The usage of fricatives throughout the final verse emphasise these feelings of hopelessness, as the narrator realises just how insignificant they are in the grand scheme of the sea:

‘till leviathan arrived—
the feeding frenzy started
I saw then we were small fry
salty little punches
made for other mouths.’

Mermaids by Rupert Locke:

This poem adapts and modernises the short story The Legend of the Padstow Doombar written by Enys Tregarthen in 1906. Within Tregarthen’s version of the folklore, a local man purchases a gun to hunt seals at Hawker’s Cove in Cornwall. Instead, he discovers a young woman sitting on a rock within the cove, brushing her long hair. Infatuated with her beauty, he asks for her hand in marriage. When she refuses his proposal of a life together, he shoots and ends her life instead. However, the woman is revealed to be a mermaid who curses the area with a strategically-placed sandbank or ‘doombar’, causing countless shipwrecks as they approach land.

Within Locke’s version of the Cornish folklore, the repetition of the phrase ‘All glammed up with nowhere to go / Sat on a rock at Hawker’s Cove.’ neatly establishes the poem’s connection to the short story and wider folklore, whilst also continuing the tale into the modern day.

Spike by Kathryn O’Driscoll:

This poem explores a ‘skeletal swimmer’ made up of different seaside elements—bone, frayed rope, kelp, and a sea urchin for a heart—slowly being undone by the tug and pull of the waves. This conjures up thoughts of humanity versus nature, emphasising the vast strength of the elements:

‘A mere mercalamity
holding tight to the shape
of a person whilst the waves
tug. Trying to unspool every

I remember when the sea swelled up to my door by Marcelle Newbold:

This poem uses the sea spilling into the narrator’s room as a metaphor for boundaries being broken and lives permanently altered. Throughout the poem, the sea can be replaced with any manner of triggering topics a person is could encounter throughout their lifetime, such as violence or even sexual assault, but ultimately the narrator seems to overcome these challenges and accept that they are in the past:

‘I remember when I wished
it would slosh all around me
hoped the colours would bleed
hoped for an engulfing
hoped for the taste of brine
hoped I could not swim
believed it was here for me.’

Only Home by Carl Alexandersson:

This poem explores a modern, queer iteration of selkie folklore and mythology. The form of the poem is lyrical, with each stanza composed of alternatively indented lines that mimic the ebb and flow of waves across the page. The sea being a place of both comfort and fear is explored throughout the ending verses, alongside the idea of a love powerful enough to match the ocean:

‘the pressure here might kill us,
my love. Match it with your hand—
we only dissolve
if we stop walking.’

Siren Song by Cheryl Byrne:

This short story explores a woman tempted by a siren song to walk ever-deeper into the sea. The ambiguity of whether the protagonist is in danger creates a sense of mystery and urgency throughout:

‘It started, finally, soon after she reached the waves, after the water touched her skin, like it was awoken by the taste of her. It was a song of longing and belonging. Its notes soothed and excited her. It was hers.’

The Price of Freedom by Eleonora Balsano:

This short story is a reworking of The Little Mermaid fairytale, which was originally composed by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen. It explores the darker side of a mermaid becoming a human, such as the bodily trauma of changing a tail into legs. The ending scenes also explore the moral implications of a woman quite literally giving up her voice and life for a discontented marriage with a man.

Aquatic imagery throughout creates a vivid image of the protagonist’s life under the sea, establishing the groundwork for what she believes she must sacrifice for love:

‘My father made me out of sand and poured seafoam through my veins. Eels rocked me to sleep in the faint glow of jellyfish and seahorses nibbled at my toes in the morning, gently bringing me back from my dreams. I wore starfish around my neck and a coral tiara on top of my head.’

The Otter World by Elizabeth Gibson:

This snippet of flash fiction explores what it would be like to shapeshift between human and otter form from a light-hearted, humorous perspective. This is reminiscent of selkie mythology, in which humans turn into seals with the simple shedding of their skin like a fur coat. This piece questions what would happen to a persons’ belongings when they shift between each form, and questions whether other people would be so easily fooled:

‘When people observe your body, ask with their eyes, you say,
hey—I know, I am a bit fatter, but you see…I was an otter.

In the Deep-Sea Garden by Diana Sanders:

This poem artfully explores the darkness and violence of the creatures inhabiting a deep-sea garden, whilst subtly questioning whether these maritime animals or the humans who hunt them are the real monsters. The use of fricatives creates a sense of urgency throughout the latter verses:

‘Zombie sharks
fall from light
broken, finless -

creating feeding
frenzies in the deep.

Above, humans
spoon shark-fin soup
between their blood-red lips.’

Celeste Scuro by Martina Bani:

This poem explores feelings of warmth as the narrator visits the Adriatic Riviera. This bittersweet nostalgia culminates in the narrator thinking about their mother and father and summers spent eating homemade paninis together across Italy. The description of the lighting itself being tropical shades of blue enhances the feelings of being abroad on holidays, enjoying the sunshine of the summer months:

‘The light is celeste scuro
Like the crayon colour I loved as a kid’

Thanks for reading our latest blog post highlighting the many talented contributors who helped create Under the Sea Magazine. To hear more snippets of their work, make sure to listen to some of the team read their pieces during our launch, or purchase a copy from our shop!

- By Ashley Eyvanaki

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