Not Quite an Ocean by Elizabeth M. Castillo is a collection of poetry that speaks for the divine feminine and to the vapid undercurrents that constantly threaten. Castillo makes great use of the ocean as a metaphor both to affirm the notion that undercurrents are always there just below a peaceful surface whilst simultaneously using such oceanic majesty to envelop the reader in the confrontation and dark undertones that make womanhood so challenging yet powerful still. Castillo does not shy away from the disturbing and destructive but allows the reader to find new hope for women globally through the cleansing waves of the ocean, of its tide now surging against all those who continue, from all angles, to criticize and control women’s narratives.

“Before the girding of loins,

before the great red of war, we rejoice to hold you
captive, you, the captor (Welcome) See?” (8)


The aforementioned extract presents a core area of narrative focus within the delightfully juxtaposing words of Castillo. Firstly, women have consistently and constantly been rendered mere objects. Objectified beings contorted by the ill-will of hegemonic masculinity and violent patriarchy. I appreciated that Castillo’s use of metaphor not only emphasizes how women are perceived but also how they must ‘dig’ beyond the surface, beyond the ascribed control of men whose power rests solely in passive consent. Castillo shows the reader that women are not tired, they are now empowered to assert themselves and sever the patriarchy from its roots.

Castillo’s poetry confronts nature in the very way in which we perceive any threat and although this may sound mundane, Castillo’s words are incredibly unique in that they juxtapose the fear of natural brutishness alongside the fear of associated with a patriarchy that spans the globe and has infiltrated wherever possible. The dichotomous nature of this collection serves to highlight that our perception of masculine control is one rooted in assumed nature.

Castillo challenges this with great gusto and forces the reader to contend with the truth; the era of men is waning after millennia of subjugation.

To be Woman
is to be pieces
is to be needed
is to be blamed
deserving at all times
To be Woman is not to be anything
To be woman is to be everything
All things bound together” (19)

Perhaps “To be Woman” is to be all things but accepted, all things but truly respected and equal in societies globally. Castillo places shrewd emphasis on the multi-faceted personalities that women are expected to embody without power, without agency already distorted by men from conception. The presentation of Castillo’s self-love is dual-fold in this collection; it serves both to highlight the love necessary to fight for better in this world whilst affirming that “To be woman” is to build your own self-love beyond the pressures of patriarchy.

Not Quite an Ocean speaks to the relentless suffering of women whilst presenting the reader with the hope and fury necessary for true structural change that enables women not only to be equal, but to gain everything stolen from them for generations. The poems within this collection are battle cries for resistance and the reclamation of all that has been lost.

Unequivocally, an essential Summer/Fall 2023 read!


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