Poetry: Thetis by Sue Watling

Think mackerel

        49 Nereid sisters
                        swim like shoals
                                        of bright fish

        Thetis is drawn
                        to the shadows
                                        liking the dark
                        the atrament

        how does she look…

                        opalesque skin
                                        reflecting light

                        streaming slate hair
                                        liquid shadow

                                        shimmering bright

                        Thetis is lustrous


                        don’t do her justice

                        think peacock shimmer
                                        kingfisher wing

                                think mackerel…

This beautiful poem is from Thetis by Sue Watling. She is a writer and poet from Hull where she has an allotment and keeps honey bees. Sue has poems published in a range of journals including: ‘The Adriatic’, ‘Amethyst Review’, ‘DawnTreader’, ‘Dream Catcher’, ‘Ekphrastic Review’, ‘Green Ink Poetry’, ‘Poetry Shed’ and ‘Saravasti’. Sue’s first poetry collection, Heaving with the Dreams of Strangers, was published by Driech in 2022 https://hybriddreich.co.uk/product/heaving-with-the-dreams-of-strangers-sue-watling/

Below she explores the inspiration and writing of her collection Thetis.

Sue Watling

I first encountered Thetis in the Hollywood film Troy (2004) with Brad Pitt as Achilles and Julie Christie playing his mother. I remember seeing it at the cinema shortly after release in the UK and then looking up Homer’s epic poem The Iliad, on which it was based, albeit with some major deviations. The Iliad is about the final weeks of the Trojan war. There I was struck by the tragedy of Thetis, an immortal goddess who gave birth to a child destined to die young while her own life was eternal.  

Thetis was forced into marriage and motherhood with the mortal king Peleus, but she adored their son Achilles, doing all she could to protect him. This included dipping him in the River Styx to make him invulnerable. Prophecy had decreed the Greeks could not win the Trojan war without Achilles fighting on their side, but that he was destined to die young. The fate of mortal lives could never be avoided and Achilles died from an arrow shot through his heel, the fateful spot where Thetis had held him in the river between her finger and thumb, giving rise to the appellation of an Achilles Heel.  

Tragedy is defined as great suffering and this story is tragic by anyone’s standards, yet my research suggested Thetis had never been a central topic of attention. The duality fascinated me and Thetis: a poetic narrative emerged out of this dissonance. My retelling of her story is based on each of her appearances in the Iliad, alongside supplementary resources about the Trojan war where her name appeared. I felt the tragedy was full of poetic potential while the gaps in our knowledge about her life were a gift for the creative imagination.

I took a part-time degree in creative writing at the University of Hull and decided to use Thetis as the subject for my dissertation. My poetry tutor was Felix Hodcroft, who encouraged and supported me in the venture, and I was delighted when Felix offered to publish Thetis through Esplanade Press.

Cover image from collection by Helen Birmingham https://www.untangledthreads.co.uk

Copies of Thetis: a poetic narrative can be ordered by email watlingsue@gmail.com or via direct message on social media https://www.facebook.com/sue.watling
and Twitter https://twitter.com/suewatling                

I’ve always enjoyed writing but most of my publications came about through my career in higher education teaching and learning. Following a restructure in 2019, I left work and realised it was an opportunity to reframe what felt, at the time, like an unwelcome change. Really it was a gift in disguise because I had time to write. Poetry has always interested me so I began to study a different way to express thoughts and feelings.

Myth and legend have always fascinated me. I’ve also rewritten the tale of Kalypso and Odysseus, while many poems in my first collection, Heaving with the dreams of strangers (Driech, 2022) have a mythological basis. These include Icarus, the Willendorf Venus and the biblical story of Samson and Delilah. Many mythological stories are set in worlds where mortals and immortals live side-by-side. God and goddesses had great powers but were unable to change individual fates, as these were decided at birth and were immutable. The possibilities for reinterpretation of myth are endless and it feels like the various cultural pantheons of gods and goddesses offer a lifetime of potential story telling.

To Find Out More
Sue blogs at https://suewatling.com/ and can be found on Twitter as @suewatling

Copies of Thetis: a poetic narrative can be ordered by email watlingsue@gmail.com or via direct message on social media https://www.facebook.com/sue.watling and Twitter https://twitter.com/suewatling                

Further information about the background to Thetis can be found in the blog post The tragedy of Thetis https://suewatling.com/the-tragedy-of-thetis/  

4 thoughts on “Poetry: Thetis by Sue Watling

  1. Diana Skelton

    So true. I’m in the middle of Drowning Not Waving and am marvelling at the way environmental justice is threaded into it. Bravo!



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