Review: Seeking Its Own Level: An Anthology of Writings About Water

Review: Seeking Its Own Level: An Anthology of Writings About Water edited by Denton Loving

by Sam Slaughter

Water, water everywhere and only drops to…read? That is exactly what you get in Motes Books’ fourth anthology in the Motif series, Seeking It’s Own Level. Editor Denton Loving has collected, in eight sections that tackle water from a variety of angles ranging from “Dark and Mysterious” to “Swimming Lessons” to “Some Fluttering Animal Spirit,” writers that are both at the top of the field as well as some up-and-comers for, overall, a solid anthology from beginning to end. The table of contents reads like the guest list to the contemporary literary world’s community pool. Come on in, the authors shout, the water’s fine (even if as is the case in some of the pieces, the water is busy destroying the characters’ worlds). Roxanne Gay, Amy Hempel, and Margaret Atwood are just some of the names that grace SIOL’s pages with their work.

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Why water, though? What makes water such a special topic? Loving, in his introduction, puts it simply: “Water is such an elemental factor of human consciousness that it pervades nearly every aspect of our being at both literal and figurative levels.” Without water, we would not survive and when we don’t have it, we realize very quickly just how important it is to our existence.

The stories, essays and poems in SIOL show that the same goes for water in literature as well. Water has the potential to span opposite ends of any spectrum life may put forth. Life, death. Suffering, joy. Giving, taking. Loving writes, “Water is transformative, and the works in this collection show how water transforms us all—from children to adults, from questioners to believers, from the living to the dead and back again.”

There are a number of strong pieces that help to carry the work of the less recognized authors. Not surprisingly, the literary heavy hitters are the  one that accomplish this with such finesse. Roxanne Gay’s contribution “The Weight of Water” epitomizes how water can destroy one’s life, yet at the same time open it up to new avenues of faith and belief. In “Weight,” Gay writes of a woman struggling to keep the faith that everything will be all right.  For her whole life Bianca is literally overshadowed by a storm cloud raining down on her. Wrecking not only the houses she lives in, but also the lives she tries to build in those places, Bianca is forced to make the best of it, which she does. She rocks the “wet look” and does whatever she can to continue on, day in and day out after being abandoned not only by her parents but by her ex-husbands, everyone leaving her watery ways, leaving the rot that grows constantly above her.

While not as nationally recognized as Gay, poet Jesse Graves’s poem “Rest Full of Light” unleashes with beautifully restrained prose the animal spirit that the last section is named for. The language of the poem is mesmerizing and rhythmic like the rain itself. Eyelids “gutter like a candle wick deep in wax.” Guttering eyelids stands out because not only does it call to mind rainfall and darkness, but the harsh consonants made me immediately picture a sputtering flame struggling to stay lit. Graves ends the poem with the line “Dream of light, the friend, the warm wet falling through” which has the same effect as water sliding off a surface to someplace else, away from what the reader knows.  The poem is as much an aural experience as it is a literary one.

What you get immediately after reading SIOL is a reminder that water has, does, and will always have a hold over us in some way, shape or form. Both good and bad can come out of our interactions with water, depending on how we use it or experience it. For those with an affinity for the natural world, or just those looking for a cool, refreshing collection of work, SIOL is just that.

Sam Slaughter Headshot

Sam Slaughter is the Book Reviews Editor for The Atticus Review. He’s had work published in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Heavy Feather Review, Drafthorse, The Southern Literary Review, and elsewhere. He can be found at and on Twitter @slaughterwrites.

Featured Image by by E.B. Bartels

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