The utilization of symbolism allows writers to convey certain messages, such as love or loss. Duality is also a popular theme in literature used to compare and contrast seemingly incompatible entities that somehow co-exist. Kristin Garth, poet and sonneteer, does something new; she creates a fantastical being, a were mer, to portray the struggle she encounters attempting to balance these opposing forces in her life. With her ‘bedtime story’, The Legend of the Were Mer, Garth briefly yet thoroughly explores life’s duplicitous nature and reflects on her dueling identities stemming from her growth into womanhood.
She immediately introduces readers to her warring desires, company versus solitude, and confesses having an indeterminate mindset and acute sensitivity. In an annotated copy, she admits, “I feel things too much in a way a lot of people in the world seem to not. I’ve always felt different;” thus, she transforms herself in the Maudlin Mermaid. She is both girl and fish, yet she does not belong neither here nor there. Though her “sisters swim to join, she’s not invited in,” and “inside the tide, you cannot see her tears.” Without a sense of belonging, Garth chooses to retreat deeper into herself instead of sharing her vulnerabilities and embarks on her journey alone.
Garth decides to divulge another secret; in the Were-Mer, her true form is introduced. As defined by Garth, the ‘were mer’ transforms between a human and a mermaid each night with the moon and has undergone this transformation “with the moon” ever since puberty. All women* can relate to this “asphyxiation under” their societal and personal spheres and the pressures that accompany these expectations, under which “she cannot breathe”. Female issues are prone to be dismissed and gaslighting leaves the were-mer questioning if she’s “deranged.”
The were mer continues her journey in The Capture, which is based on Garth’s twenties as a stripper working her way toward freedom from an abusive and controlling household. As the title states, she reminisces, “it was always a capture,” leading men “from bar to bed […] a wordless waif who’s fed.” She is again forced to choose between ‘two sides’: either she can remain a ‘good’ girl and suffer in an unfavorable environment or do ‘bad’ things but establish a foundation for herself by herself. Garth exposes this fallacy of bifurcation and exposes society’s continually reductive categories of women placing complex human beings in boxes crudely labelled ‘angel’ or ‘whore.’ Despite poor choices, these are Garth’s formative years: creating and molding herself into the person she wants to be, instead of what others expect her to be.
As she was cultivating her sense of self and developing as an artist, Garth “subvert[ed] that neediness and make peace with the solitude required for [her] to create.” One of the main challenges of establishing herself as her own person was learning how to create a relationship that provides “love and a partner, [but also the] space to create. To Garth, that is pure love.” In Stranger Seas, “she waits / prostrate” and she details her experiences with different partners, swimming “to stranger seas, by night, islands alone” searching for this open love.
She continues her conversation regarding an ideal partnership in Her Tears A Travelogue His Heart Divines. Garth stresses the importance of respect: retaining it for herself and her needs while ensuring that this potential lover also understands the boundaries and freedoms she requires to thrive as an artist and individual. She opens with idyllic scenery and a mysterious meeting on a misty beach, and “he stays / and waits for feet, a standing date they keep.”
With her were mer, Garth exposes the false dualities in both romantic relationships and womanhood, emphasizing female independence from societal and personal constraints. She proves that not only can love and independence exist together; one can thrive with both elements. At first, the were mer struggled to breathe; now, she has found her sense of belonging both on land and in the sea. Here, she will continue to rule, singing songs to other budding were mers, hoping to be the catalyst for their journey as well.
*our definition of “woman” (or womxn) includes non-binary femme presenting individuals, trans women, and cis women.