Saltwater, femininity, sensation, emotion
In ancient Roman mythology, Salacia was the female divinity of the sea, worshipped as the goddess of salt water who presided over the depths of the ocean. She was the wife and queen of Neptune, god of the sea and water.
As the story goes, Neptune wanted to marry Salacia, but she was supposedly in ‘great awe’ of her distinguished suitor. To preserve her virginity, she managed to ‘glide out of his sight,’ and hid from him in the Atlantic Ocean. The grieving Neptune sent a dolphin to look for her and ‘persuade’ her to come back and share his throne.
As a woman living in the 21st century, I find this story quite troubling. Despite the declarations and depictions of committed and consensual love between the Roman God and Goddess of the sea, the story can also be read as a disturbing tale of pursuit and even violence.
I used this as a starting point to write what became the title poem in the collection:
I cast myself deep,
no more a fish gutted
on an arrow’s edge.
A spear-headed Siren,
Your golden band
folded about this finger,
swollen and salted
as a womb-pickled
In my poem, Salacia is portrayed as Neptune’s victim, desperately trying to evade his clutches but ultimately dragged back to his side, along with Venilia, his second paredrae, (Paredrae are entities who pair or accompany a god – sounds like Neptune wasn’t so keen on monogamy after all…)
To me, Salacia is a feminist icon, the mother of the sea, aligned with saltwater, the moon and the tide. She is the calm, sunlit aspect of the sea as well as the raging, gushing and overflowing waters. Her name is sometimes literally translated to mean sensational.
The sea opens her gills,
her foam adornments
pucker and roll – –
She screams with soggy lungs,
Her furious vocals whipped
as the cracked bow
of a ship. They are mine.
Once I’d written this poem, I realised that my whole collection encompassed elements of this mythological Roman goddess. I’ve always felt an affinity with the sea, the water and the pull of the moon – feminine elements which resonate, whether consciously or not, throughout my work. The collection includes pieces about other real and mythological women, including Gwen Ellis, Blodeuwedd, Sarah Jacob and my own mother, but I chose to title my work Salacia because it felt right somehow. From page to page, she lingers, peering from poems about broken marriages, lost children, longing and homesickness.
Salacia will be released with Parthian Books in Spring 2018. Keep your eyes peeled for launch event dates and details! x
Photo credit Michael Scott.