A History of Touch by Erin Emily Ann Vance | Book Review

My grandmother always said,
Ask no questions
when disposing of bodies.

Mini Book Review

Thank you, NetGalley for the chance to read and review the ARC for A History of Touch by Erin Vance!

I find it really hard to do full-on book reviews anyway, let alone poetry book reviews. That being said, I feel like I’ve been doing a half-decent job with some of my other reviews, and I did write one for Pangaea.

A History of Touch by Erin Emily Ann Vance comes out on the 1st of May, this year. This book is an attempt to bear witness to difficult women throughout history, who were brushed off as hysterical or witches, which means we range from Cassandra to Rosemary Kennedy; from the lobotomized to those burned at the stake.

While the premise is fantastic, I don’t actually like most of the poems in this book. I just couldn’t get into them and they didn’t make me feel anything, even though these are women who I should want to feel for.

That being said, there were definetly some poems that I liked, such as Confession. The speaker here is Elsie Wright. Elsie and her sister Frances were responsible for the Cottingley Fairies hoax; 5 pictures that they used to try and prove that fairies were real. While Elsie confessed that all were stages, Frances maintained, until the end, that the last one was real.

According to Wikipedia, the entire thing may have been a joke, with the girls too embarrassed to admit that the pictures were a prank when Sir Arthur Conlon Doyle (YES THE SHERLOCK HOLMES DUDE) thought they were real.

That goes to show that as long as news has existed, human beings have always had a tendency to believe the fake kind.

But I like Erin Vance’s little poem; it’s nice to believe for a moment that they actually met fairies.

The Mouth of Lynnhaven

It is said that witches ride in eggshells downriver
to deliver babies out of wedlock, under cover of night,
that witches turn into hares to escape the grasping fingers
of men with scythes for eyes and briars for tongues.

Of the truthfulness of these two things I do not know,
but I do know that when they ducked Grace Sherwood in
the water, with a thirteen-pound bible tied to her neck,
she sputtered to the surface
and spat in the faces of her accusers.

Bearing witness to women in history.

A History of Touch is a poetry collection about women in folklore and history who were ill, disabled, or otherwise labelled ‘hysteric.’

The work bears witness to the lives of women with varying experiences, such as a woman whose epilepsy was mistaken for demonic possession, Sarah Winchester’s grief, Mary Roff and her love of leeches, and the “witch”, Biddy Early.

There is a poem about Bridget Cleary, who upon displaying her independence was burned to death by her husband, believing her to be a changeling. The collection includes pieces on anchoresses, Rosemary Kennedy, and accused witches. A History of Touching tells the stories of ‘difficult women.’

Each poem discusses an aspect of or a moment in a woman’s life, connecting these moments to different aspects of embodiment and the natural world.

A History of Touch is an examination of women vilified or left behind for their strength or their weakness. This book uses strong poetic imagery and metaphor to elevate details drawn from real life to that of poetry.

The book comprises of three sections, each drifting between biographical poetry (Scrying, about Biddy Early), experimental poetry (Projections of a Glass Womb, which manipulates the text of a midwifery textbook), fairy tale sequences (What a Pretty Sight), folklore, (Macha, Flickers) and pieces that incorporate elements of confessional poetry (Bloodletting, Whiskers).

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