Poetry Review: Shame Is An Ocean I Swim Across by Mary Lambert

This review delves into some more personal feelings of mine regarding my own mental health and body image issues, so if that may be triggering, it may be best to skip this review!


Shame Is An Ocean I Swim Across

by Mary Lambert

Feiwel & Friends, October 23rd 2018

Goodreads, Amazon, Wordery, Book Depository 

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.

I’ve been a listener of Mary Lambert’s music since I was around fifteen, when I first came out as bisexual. Her music has been in the backdrop of my life for many years, so when I saw this audiobook was available on Scribd, I couldn’t resist.

I cannot emphasise this enough: please listen to the audiobook. Mary lambert delivers every poem beautifully, with so much emotion, and being able to hear what she stresses really does make the experience all the more personal. Like it feels like she’s just speaking to you, with the backing track of her music adding to the emotion and how personal every poem feels.

As I listened to the audiobook, I can’t speak completely on structure and language on the page as poetry feels very different depending on whether you’re reading or hearing it. I think it being straightforward and not relying on metaphors grounds her experiences in the reality of it and is tied into her way of delivering the message, and I really like how her poetry comes across because of that.

Lambert talks about a lot of personal experiences and moments in life where she’s reflected a lot on herself as a person. There are poems on sexual assault, incest and trauma, and her mental illness (bipolar disorder). It’s a very difficult collection with a lot of gravity and rawness to how she discusses her life, her relationships, and how partners have treated her in the years.

talk about renaissance painters/never let them know how lonely it is to have a body that’s a joke

What really spoke to me is the focus on body image. It was so strange, how some thoughts seem universal for fat women in particular, something that really became evident listening to Mary Lambert’s poetry. The specific line about renaissance painters literally forced me to stop listening to the audiobook because of how much I saw myself in the line; my own attitude towards my body. In a lot of my low moments, I’ve said that I have a body that only renaissance painters would appreciate, and it honestly made me stop to hear another fat woman make a reference to something that’s so personal to me.

It’s so isolating to be fat, because even with other fat people there seems to be this element of being scared and disgusted with ourselves, but Mary Lambert has this frankness, covering so many emotions there are to feel about a fat body, and I could see myself in all of those thoughts, those emotions; the highs and the lows, the hatred and the love, all of it.

but there is something that happens when you are told you are too much/you begin to ask everyone ‘how small would you like me?’

There’s also this belief that you’re ‘too much’. I’m too fat, too depressed, too happy, too sad, too ditzy, too loud and too quiet, too much of everything, so you try and become something else to hide the chaos. I shrunk into myself for years and refused to speak up, and it’s only now I’m starting to stretch out my bones and let myself take up space, but even then I find myself being too scared to put myself out there. Being surrounded by people who don’t understand the need I felt to shrink myself makes me feel even more insecure and like I’ve done this to myself, even though i know that’s not the case, and it’s so overwhelming connecting Lambert’s poetry to my own life.

This is a very personal collection for me, and no doubt one of my all time favourites now. I hope one day Mary Lambert comes out with more poetry, and I really hope everyone reading this review finds something to make themselves feel happy today.

RATING: 🍎🍎🍎🍎🍎

If you liked this review, you might like:

🍎 Some Poetry Recommendations

🍎 Review: The Long Way to A Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

🍎 Review: The Gloaming by Kirsty Logan

If you liked this post, consider buying me a coffee? Ko-Fi. 


7 thoughts on “Poetry Review: Shame Is An Ocean I Swim Across by Mary Lambert

  1. Portia - The Owlery Reader

    This is a lovely review, Connie. I’m definitely adding this collection to my TBR.

    I read Sofie Hagen’s Happy Fat recently and it really changed the way I think about my body. It’s funny and educational too. I would definitely would recommend it if you want more fat positivity in your reading life!


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