‘hex it through glory / total and utter glory’
(WITCH, complete with early-bird feathers & crystal)
It’s here. And it’s glorious.
I was deeply excited to receive my copy of WITCH (Penned in the Margins) yesterday. I’ve been waiting for it (pretty impatiently) ever since seeing Rebecca Tamás perform ‘penis hex’ in 2017, waiting with that slight nervousness that attends high hopes. Will it be as good as one imagines? I needn’t have worried, this collection is insanely good. It arcs terrifyingly, exhilaratingly off the page, demanding of the reader a complete, spirited, whole-body response. It is also by turns: profoundly political; arcane & expansive; sensual; disturbing; hilarious and dark.
After my initial leaping about in it, I started digging around in boxes, trying to find my mum’s old dissertation, which she wrote when studying for an MA in Witchcraft. In it, she focused on Relationships with the Familiar, with reference to Elizabeth Sawyer and her black dog Tom. Sawyer was hanged in 1621 and was the inspiration for The Witch of Edmonton. While my mum was researching (and as I had a smattering of Latin) she had me down the Met’ Police Archives searching for the court records of Sawyer’s trial: a weird, white-gloved exercise in dust and indecipherable medieval Latin. I wasn’t much help.
Anyway, in the 1600s the proofs required by witch trials largely boiled down to identification of two things: a familiar, and the teat by which the familiar was fed, on the witch’s body. Leafing through it again now, I am reminded of just how weaponised the female body was in the context of the (literal) witch hunt. The disgust and physical misogyny that found ‘the devil’ in the tags and tears of a woman’s body speak now to the modern, homogenising scalpel (both actual, metaphorical and virtual), that would still stigmatise the ‘unusual’ or ‘atypical’, when in fact all our bodies are multifarious and unique. WITCH offers a powerful countering; reconnects mind with body, and both with utterance. Because after all, this book is about spelling it out.
In Tamás’s recent White Review essay ‘Songs of Hecate’, she asks – how to find the magic of the body? How to bring it into language? Well, this collection is an object lesson in exactly that. It is not about witchcraft, it is witchcraft. Visceral, alive and embodied, it crackles with intent. In ‘Songs of Hecate’ she goes on to say – A witch’s desire changes what is thinkable within the body – much like poetry might do. Much like THIS poetry might, or indeed does do. WITCH shifts your thinking. Moves poetry on. Stuffs it in an eggshell and compels it, sailing through the air.
It is a terrifying magic. You know you need it.