Poetry and Literary Nonfiction
Noctuary Press, 2016
“What MEDI(T)ATIONS leaves us with, then, is a universal articulation of suffering evident across many levels of expression (form, narrative, autobiography, cultural critique) and the spaces—both the whiteness which separates printed words on a page and the gaps between our various selves—that best articulate the rendered experience.”
—The Southern Literary Review
During the European witch trials, over one hundred thousand people were prosecuted for maleficia. The vast majority were women. Many were unmarried. Many owned property. Some were midwives who counseled village women about their health, their pregnancies, and their marriages. Others were simply non-conformists. Maleficae tells the story of one so-called witch: a woman who, like many others, was once seen as her village’s savior, but became the focus of the villagers’ fear and rage when disaster struck.
This book-length series of poems seeks to re-create the terror and inhumanity of the trials. Incorporating language from trial records to papal bulls to incendiary theological documents, these poems explore the intersection of forces that led to the persecution of people who were deemed different and therefore dangerous—forces alarmingly similar to those still operating today. At the center of all of this is the woman who was called a witch: her story, her wail from the center of the flames. In allowing her new testimony, in allowing the dead to speak, Maleficae gives voice to the voiceless victims of the trials.
In this incantatory series of lyric poems Emma Bolden finds a new way to write about an old (though still current) subject. This book speaks in many tongues, many vivid, and living tongues.
Emma Bolden’s Maleficae is an ambitious and powerful accomplishment. Informed by historical records of European witchcraft trials, it is wholly contemporary in its layered complexity and poetic craft. Incantatory rhythms, shifting perspectives and voices, and vividly rendered dream/nightmare imagery make these poems hypnotic and haunting. The contrast between historical content and contemporary form—between fact and imagination—intensifies the dramatic impact and reminds us that the past is, in one form or another, always present.
Lust, freedom, repression, sin, shame. The fearful, oppressive denial of female empowerment and agency. Maleficae has all the conceptual intelligence of a Feminist study, but it makes its argument via artful imagined experience. This is a poetry “possessed” of a musical and rhetorical mastery that cast their own incantatory spell, compelling us to feel the thin membrane between modernity and our past, between pragmatism and inner mystery. It made me think of those Anne Sexton poems that utilize and transcend her confessionalism, speaking not just for herself, but for all women.
Some centuries back Emma Bolden would have been burned at the stake as a witch. For similar reasons, her poetry insists on such intimacies that we are not going to be who we were by the time she is done with us. Audacious to attempt poems that would show us ourselves as we are, filled with the lust of the hunt… the terror of the taking, if indeed we would ever confess. Only the few who show up every now and then with the genius that demands they sacrifice their lives to the craft of making a poem even come close to making us see ourselves. Bolden’s Maleficae freely achieves nothing less than impossibly holding our very souls before us, again and again and again and again.
Winged City Press, 2014
This Is Our Hollywood
Published in The Chapbook, Volume 2, along with chapbooks by Patti White, Jessica Smith, Laura Hendrix Ezell, Michael Martone, Jennifer Horne, and Jim Hilgartner, 2013
dancing girl press, 2008
Available for purchase from dancing girl press and studio
Available for purchase from Toadlily Press