Happy Tuesday, readers, writers, and shark fans!
If you’ve been reading the issues of Lit Shark Magazine (thank you), you’ll remember Alyssa’s name from our first two issues! We featured “We Agreed on Commensalism” and “52 Blue” in Issue 1, and we included “The Dead Sea,” “Underwater Blankets,” and “Fibonacci Spirals” in Issue 2: The SHARK WEEK Edition.
All of these poems, except “We Agreed on Commensalism,” appear in Alyssa’s second collection of poetry, Treading Water.
We hope you’ll enjoy these reviews, and we hope you’ll check out both of these books. We know you’ll love them so much more than the reviews.
Read Seven Years and Treading Water:
Review of SEVEN YEARS by Alyssa Harmon
There’s this wonderful sentiment that our bodies replace every cell in our bodies with a new one within seven years’ time.
It offers this beautiful promise to those who have suffered terrible heartbreak or abuse that they will eventually live in a body that is completely refreshed and new, untouched by the pain of those experiences—and this concept is perfectly set to the tune of poetry in Seven Years by Alyssa Harmon.
For anyone who’s ever suffered from terrible heartbreak, unrequited love, or emotional cheating, there are poems here to find comfort in. And readers who enjoy personal, confessional poems largely in the style of Rupi Kaur, Amanda Lovelace, and Sophie Diener—with added lyricism, imagery, poetic deftness, and gorgeous, original images of nature—will adore this collection.
Going back to the concept of seven years of cell regrowth/replacement, this collection is broken into seven years of first impressions, early love, dating, the ups and downs of the relationship, early signs of decline, the breakup itself, and of course, the terrible, grieving, seemingly unending aftermath of that heartbreak. This collection is deeply personal and raw, vulnerable to its core, tremendously endearing, and unexpectedly twinkling with hope at the end. There’s hope in the end that there is healing beyond those months and years of walking away from the heartbreak, and even that there’s something better out there waiting.
What’s most impressive is that this is a debut collection of poetry. It’s an impressively lengthy collection for a debut at 114 pages of poetry (usually between 60 and 90 pages in most contemporary collections), and these poems demonstrate a clear awareness and mastery of poetic craft. Harmon performs this perfect balancing act between developing a personal, diary-like narrative with the reader while delivering through lovely, poetic lines and imagery… While it makes her work like other confessional poets, her imagery and working of the line makes the experience of connecting with her and reading her thoughts so much better.
This will absolutely be a collection I will come back into in the hard times. In fact, it’s comforting knowing that I’ll have it for when of those moments comes. I highly recommend you give this a read, and I’m sure you’ll understand on that final page why it’s going to become such a companion for the future.
Order Seven Years Here:
Review of TREADING WATER by Alyssa Harmon
We’ve all heard the concept of drowning outside the context of physical water: drowning in work, drowning in laundry or housework, or drowning in depression—but I’ve never seen someone own this metaphor and embrace it over an entire poetry collection like Alyssa Harmon did in her second poetry collection, Treading Water.
In Harmon’s debut collection, Seven Years, which focuses on early love and tremendous heartbreak, the latest sections of the collection allude to mental health, from a lost sense of identity, to feelings of emptiness, to losing motivation to do things without that special person still in the picture. While Seven Years is not a required read prior to Treading Water, it offers foreshadowing for the mental health focus we will experience in Harmon’s second book. There’s even a poem toward the end of Treading Water called “Therapy Session,” which echoes back to Seven Years: “why I’ve felt so confused the past seven years,” and it’s so refreshing to see such a direct conversation happening between two poetry collections, which typically run very independently of one another.
Also much like Seven Years, Treading Water is organized into very intentional sections; this time, instead of years, it’s “the sinking,” “the drowning,” “the swimming,” and “the rescuing.” For anyone who’s struggled with their mental health, they’ll understand exactly where this is going: that steady sink into a depression episode, those brief moments of thinking that we’re pulling ourselves out of it, before we feel like we’re drowning in it… before we eventually get the help we need (whatever that means for us) and find ourselves able to swim again, slowly but surely. It’s incredibly comforting to recognize this pattern in the collection and to sort of know the arc of what is coming—while being overwhelmingly, sometimes beautifully, surprised by what’s contained in the individual poems themselves.
True to Harmon’s writing style, these poems are incredibly raw, vulnerable, and honest, but in some of these, you need to steel yourself a bit for how honest they are. Those who have had similar experiences to the persona created in this collection, they’ll inevitably find themselves in these poems and recall their own memories and feelings that are being called out in these poems. But. And I do say but—there is so much hope in the end. The final section, “The Rescuing,” features perfectly imperfect progress out of the depths and into a lighter place of having hope and being able to swim again. Maybe not to swim a marathon or win a triathlon, but at least to make it back to shore. But what I loved most was Harmon’s call out to fellow artists and almost the “pay it forward” sentiment of that final section. There’s a line that I can’t get out of my mind from her poem, “The Poet’s Sacrifice”: “i’ve read so many poems / where the poets offered themselves / as sacrifices, / so that i could see another day” (Harmon 100). It’s this tremendous line that not only calls up gratitude for those who have helped us, but how when we’re able, to pay it forward and help someone else.
I know I said this about Seven Years, as well, but this poetry collection is like a comfort object to me and inevitably will be a collection that I will come back to when times get hard.
Just like Seven Years, if you enjoy Rupi Kaur, Sophie Diener, and Amanda Lovelace, this collection is for you. If you sometimes struggle with your mental health and need company, or you enjoy exploring others’ experiences around mental health, this is for you. True to Harmon, she not only writes in a deeply confessional, personal, comforting style, but she’s brutally honest when it’s needed, and her writing ability is tremendous in her turn of phrase and use of images. And dare I say, she’s stepped it up even more in this collection than she did in Seven Years; her writing is amazing, her commitment to the drowning and swimming metaphor is admirable, and her descriptions of nature, water, and marine life are truly beautiful.
Read Treading Water. You won’t be sorry.
Order Treading Water Here:
If it’s not clear, we absolutely loved both of these collections and were so impressed by how Alyssa Harmon tackled these subjects that we’ve all dealt with in our lives. While a lot of us try so hard to shield these feelings and keep these experiences private, Alyssa Harmon has gone out of her way to not only put her experiences out there to remind people that they are not alone, but she used her deftness with creative writing and poetry as a vessel to do it.
We’ve talked about Core Stories here on Lit Shark before and stressed the importance of putting our emotional high points out there (both the positive and the negative) and reflecting on how those big moments drive us—but also how we can take that drive and put it back out into the world, whether it’s through art or teaching or something else. And it’s clear that Alyssa Harmon got the memo through both of her collections, and we can’t wait to see what she does with her craft next.
But most importantly, with the final note of hope in Treading Water, we can’t wait to see the message of Alyssa Harmon’s third collection and what she’ll have to share with us in her next book.
Read Seven Years and Treading Water:
She writes poetry based on her life experiences. She typically writes poetry to help herself heal and process emotions, but she publishes them to help others heal and know they are not alone.
While seven years was her first book, she has many more poetry books planned, so she suggests we all subscribe to her newsletter for updates. She also used to write novels and plans to do that again in the future, but not before completing the poetry projects she has lined up.
Currently, she lives in St. Petersburg, FL., with her boyfriend. When she’s not writing poetry, you can find her reading a good book, swimming laps in the pool, or traveling and exploring new countries.
Don’t forget to follow her on Instagram, too!