BOOK REVIEW: Writ in Water

Writ in Water
“Writ in Water,” poetry by Diane McManus.
Moonstone Press.

Writ in Water

by Diane McManus

Moonstone Press



Diane McManus learned to swim as a child on Fire Island, a skill her parents thought was necessary since the family lived so close to water. At first, it was “just laps for fun and exercise in the bay,” she said. Years later, “No way,” she thought when a coach suggested she take on an ocean mile. But she did it. And when the Maggie Fischer Memorial Great South Bay Cross Bay Swim came up, a five-mile swim from Fire Island to Long Island , she took that on too, challenging herself and getting competitive while she was at it.

“There’s a wild woman inside me that just wants to see what she can do,” said the marathon swimmer in 2020, then close to 70. “Who knows what’s next!”

What was next was a dive into poetry.

This slim, concise volume’s subject is singular: water is all things and everything to McManus. She’s in it and on it, smelling it, contemplating its effect on her, stroke by measured stroke, breathing steady. Reflective, thoughtful, funny, sensual, and soulful, McManus takes us along on her journey through the waters’ primeval.

She’s timely, too, and pokes a little fun. Her first poem, “Hero, continued,” starts: “Woman Swims from Bangladesh to India to Marry Facebook / Boyfriend (YouTube TV).” It’s a real thing; I looked it up. The love-struck lady tells all in a YouTube interview. But alas, it’s in Bengali. Yet, when McManus puts it out there, the language is crystal clear. “…friends said / over coffee. How bad do you want it? early / the next day, she stuffed clothes into a bag / tied to her waist, swam though the night.”

Easy on the ears (poetry is best read aloud), McManus gives us some lovely language:  “flung herself through centuries” in the above poem. And whimsy and rhyme in “Open Water Afternoon” (most of her poems are in open verse). “Water, a quilt of varying temps” / in which to try, say butterfly, / colors opening to sky.”

Here is McManus in “Marathon Swim,” a powerful piece. The swimmer talks to herself, becoming almost trance-like as she pushes herself through herself and the grueling, all-consuming effort of her swim. Her commitment, her dedication to her task reminded me of Annette Benning, playing Diane Nyad in the movie, “Nyad.”

“I am water—

the Schuykill. Shallows rises up.

Eons of rocks

stare back. Rhythm of stroke

broken. The deep keeps me

moving. I am water, I am land.


I am hunger, absorb the protein,

the pain. Water

wraps me, whisks me

past death. Whispers

its secrets. The Heron rises,

trail of splash and flight.


Voices from the air.

They meet me.

Both sides. Inhale river. Inhale flowers,

Human connection. I remember

Balance brings me home.


And in ‘Girl Swimming,” shape-changing, recreating herself: “I aspire to be dolphin/skipping into backflips/…re-emerging/in another skin.”

There’s a poem on Covid, and on grief. Another reflects swimming in cold water, giving readers a full range of events, descriptions, and emotions.

When the famous English poet John Keats wrote “Writ in Water,” he expressed his fear that his life and words would fade into oblivion once he was gone. Keats was wrong, of course, and though he died at 25, his work has endured for centuries. I don’t know what Diane McManus had in mind when she titled her poem “Writ in Water,” but her words hold fast to the page.

So, don’t be a wet blanket. Take the plunge and pick up a copy.