The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever

Jacques Cousteau

Swimming My Verses: Poetry & Open Water Swimming

P8050067 Elementals: Hand. Aqua. Bubble. Water.

Blue. Green. Tree. Breath. Arm. Hand. Bubbles. Sun. Moon. 

Sometimes when I'm open water swimming, with my mind full of thoughts and I want to clear it, I turn to elementals like primary colors. Single words for single moments. I turn my head to breathe, life giving agent, and there is the Sky. Cloud. Pink. Sun. Sensation. Joy. Cold. Water. 

Simplicity emerges. Each breath, a word. And, yes, Water. Water. Water. Always water, everywhere. Me inside the water. The water inside of me. 

Slicing through the waves, the currents, the liquid aqua. I'm flowing and moving somewhere and nowhere. Rock, Buoy, Colored house. Or perhaps, there's a long section with nothing to distract me. The mind wanders. I turn my head to breathe. Mountain. Pine. Boat. Moored. 

A single quick breath doesn't allow for taking in much more. Air. Oxygen. Gratitude. I fill my lungs, exhale in the water and do it again, and again, and again. 

Smells magnify. Bodily sensations magnify as I move through a colder or warmer current. The mental cobwebs in my mind clear as I return again to the elementals. Blue. Friend. Wind. Kayak. Aqua. Fish. Hand. Light. Kick. Count. Beach. Child. Kelp. Seagull. Shallow. Adjust. Cold. The mental noise diminishes and clarity of thought increases. Creativity rises from the inner depths moved by my body and mind flowing through the currents.

Perceiving, always. Absorbing, being and feeling the moment. The mind wanders again. I let it. Fuzzy. Synchroncity. Disunion. An idea. Inspiration.

Then, I return to my elementals. Fingers. Power. Surrender. Rhythm. Perseverance.  And I feel peace and well-being and often strength, though sometimes fatigue, as I rhythmically plow through the water slowly progressing towards the distant goal each stroke bringing me closer. Closer. Closer to what? The goal? The distant shore? The present moment? The self? Everything and nothing at the same time. 

Sun. Horizon. Air. Light. Movement. Transformation.

For me elementals are the beginning of poetry. The building blocks that become verses that move and inspire others. By happy coincidence I had been reflecting on these elementals when my partner shared with me a link to a beautiful, simple early 20th C poem by the inspiring Concha Méndez who Sheila Blanco, a 21st C singer, composer, pianist (and many more things as women often are), has put to song. Méndez forms part of a relatively unknown and marginalized group of women poets from the Generation of '27 (the 1920s). In Spain the male literary greats of this same productive generation (eg, Lorca, Cernuda, Alberti, etc) are often studied but not typically their female counterparts. Using her voice and the piano, Sheila Blanco resurrects the valuable contributions of this generation's female literary artists by putting a few of their pieces to song in her precious album Cantando a las poetas del 27 (Singing to the Poets of '27).

Born in Madrid and an accomplished, self-defined Surrealist poet, playwright, editor and even door-to-door book vendor, Concha Méndez (1898-1986) spent summers in her youth in the coastal cities of Santander and San Sebastian. Swimming was Concha's other passion. As an open water swimmer, she braved the cold waters of the Cantabrian sea winning competitions in an era when women's athletics were not supported and encouraged. Sheila describes Concha's life as an example of liberty, creativity and independence. Her poem, Nadadora (The Female Swimmer) combines her passion for the sea and her life as a poet.

Sheila explains that in the version of the poem Nadadora that she has put to song, the piano represents the water and waves, her voice the mermaid's song and the poet's verses.

por Concha Méndez

Mis brazos:
los remos.

La quilla:
mi cuerpo.

mi pensamiento.

(Si fuera sirena,
mis cantos
serían mis versos.)

Incluido en el poemario de Concha Méndez que se titula Inquietudes de 1926.
Credit from Cantando a las poetas del 27, por Sheila Blanco, released April 3, 2020, license, all rights reserved.
by Concha Méndez

My arms:
the oars.

The keel: 
my body.

my thought.

(If I were a mermaid,
my songs
would be my verses.)

*Translation by Nancy Frey
Included in the poetry collection of Concha Méndez titled Inquietudes (Concerns) from 1926.
Song Credit: Cantando a las poetas del 27, by Sheila Blanco, released 3 April 2020, all rights reserved.
Artist Name - Sheila Blanco - Nadadora de Concha Méndez.mp3

Concha's poem and Sheila's voice and piano work immediately spoke to me as a swimmer, woman and creative entity who uses her mind and body to express herself, her inner and outer poetry. I realized that I swim my verses.

The simplicity of the poem's images captivate me. Her likening herself to a vessel moving through the water guided by her mind and body working together resonates. She is not a woman and yet she is a woman, a strong woman moving her body and mind in unison to create movement and poetry. While she hesitates to align herself with the potent image of the mermaid, by using parentheses, nonetheless she does conjure this magical, ambivalent symbolic image of the mermaid, both maligned and desired by society. 

Perhaps she realized, in her soul thoughts, that the mermaid goes far beyond simplistic seductress imagery to the place where the mermaid can tap into "the regenerative powers of the subconscious" as an undefinable, mysterious, marginal entity through which she can also express her art and poetry. The boat imagery disassociates herself from her female body - she's solid, strong, independent, free, flowing. And, yet, she also knows herself as a woman with a sensual body and perhaps does not want to completely forget her woman's body as an important source of creativity and thus conjures the mermaid. She creates and recreates herself through her verses and reveals the depth, power and elusive nature of her inner beauty. She is la belle sauvage.

The complex tension of being a woman and expressing one's strength in mind, body, creation and sensuality resonates through the ages and hits a deep chord. Woman have often had to work metaphoric magic to fulfill all their life roles as well as to honor their creative spirits. The mermaid is the wild, untamed beauty and the swimmer the steady flowing ship - the strength and mystery of a powerful woman wrapped up in beautiful, simple yet complex imagery.

Nadadora, two perspectives by Sam

I asked my son who is a deep, old watery soul, despite his 13 years of youth, to put these verses to image and this is what rose up from his own inner world. In the image on the left, the strong mermaid swimmer, beautiful in body and creative energy, rises up towards the surface, towards the light, singing her truth. The helm around her head (and the rudder fins protruding from her tail - the two ways of translating the Spanish word timón into English) appear to be the sun's rays, her keel like armor and her oars tattooed to her skin. On the right, Nadadora reflects, rests and creates after her swim. She is part woman, part fish,a magical creature both wild and untamed, mistress of her own destiny, creator of her own songs, captain of her own ship.

I wished that woman would write and proclaim this unique empire so that other women, other unacknowledged sovereigns, might exclaim: I, too, overflow; my desires have invented new desires, my body knows unheard-of-songs."

by Hélène Cixous
Sun. Light. Water. Ripple. Reflection. Sky. Blue. Steel. Darkness. Serenity.

I contemplated this poem and asked myself : If I were a mermaid, what would my songs be? For Concha they would be her poetic verses. For Blanca, also a swimmer, perhaps they would be her voice and the piano accompaniment. I believe for me, as suggested by my partner, dear soul, that my songs would be my eyes (the window to my soul), my vision, my way of seeing the world and hopefully transmitting a desire to others to sing their own songs, write their own verses, find and value their own inner beauty. 

In other articles I have spoken of the sense of how I would like to flow in life as I do in the water or to merge with the atoms. Water runs through our bodies and, when we swim, it runs over our bodies and somehow there is an osmosis that takes place between the inner and outer world as these different water sources merge and move towards one another. This movement moves my body, my mind, my thoughts, my creativity. This movement certainly isn't always flowing and often reflects the sea's many states - choppy, dark, changeable, stormy, unpredictable, rough. But I keep swimming and moving the verses within to help them to flow outward. It overflows, as in the words of Cixous, and I realize 'my body knows unheard-of-songs.' I emerge from the water and the verses resurface and hopefully flow out of my fingers.

Swimming under your own power in the open sea gives freedom and uplifting sensations that remain in the heart, soul and body. Swimming through the waves, with our arms as our oars, our bodies as our boats, and our thoughts and intuition at the helm guiding our way, we can attempt to create poetry in motion. My body moves and writes its verses in the water. The water writes me and I write the water. A liquid dance of sensations, possibilities, moments and elementals. Swimming my verses.

The water writes me and I write the water.
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Comments 1

Guest - Maria on Monday, 17 August 2020 10:58
Enhorabuena por tu gran trabajo

Tus palabras y ver lo que consigue expresar Sam a través de sus pinturas me han conmovido y emocionado mucho. Gracias por compartir tu arte ?

Tus palabras y ver lo que consigue expresar Sam a través de sus pinturas me han conmovido y emocionado mucho. Gracias por compartir tu arte ?
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