Text & Talkie: “Maleficae” (2013) & “The VVitch” (2015)

Late October.  And whether you celebrate Samhain, or Hallowe’en (remember when the apostrophe was essential?), it’s always the season of the Witch.  So I thought the Hallowed Holiday most appropriate for sharing my thoughts on two artistic renditions of the Witch in history: a stunning collection of poetry by Emma Bolden from 2013 titled Maleficae, and the 2015 film, complete with archaic kerning, The VVitch: A New-England Folktale, written and directed by Robert Eggers.




Maleficae (2013), Emma Bolden’s magnificent collection, takes its title from the Latin for “witch,” or “sorceress.”  It was also a term for black magic, or evil-doing, and the ending “-cae,” makes the gender form of the word clearly female.  The image on the cover is from a seventeenth-century (1608) woodcut for Francesco Maria Guazzo’s Compendium Maleficarum, a witch-hunting manual, and illustrated the chapter titled “On Incendiary Witchcraft.”  Bolden lets the reader know before the cover is cracked open that these poems aim to set fire to the reader’s core, while also foreshadowing how we already know it ends (spoiler alert: the witch burns).

It’s refreshing to read a “non-Salem-focused witch” collection, and Bolden doesn’t hold back, mining the theological as well as the mythological and the historical to portray one lone woman’s descent into the hell of accusations, arrest, and execution.  These are well-researched poems that are fully inspired by the primary sources (Biblical quotes, witch-hunting manuals, trial records, folklore and herbalism) that make up this tragic and misogynistic history, and the language is lyrical, incantatory, as if viewing history through–dare I say it?–a veil.

I don’t have permission to quote from the book, so I’ll link to two of Bolden’s poems here, from the Cortland Review:


The VVitch: A New-England Folktale (2015) is a horror film that puts forth the idea, “what if the concept of witches and witchcraft, in the Medieval European sense, was true?” and places it in the context of one family banished from their colonial community (Plymoth, Massachusetts is implied).



This film captures a belief system at one point in history.  While the setting of the story is clearly colonial New England,  it wasn’t Salem-esque; rather, the mythology of the Continental belief in witches were used.   And the more the viewer knows about the trials, in the sense of what was constructed as the mythology of witches, the more they’ll appreciate what was woven into the film.

The crew worked for four years with Plimoth Plantation staff to get the time period correct, although it’s not meant to serve as a historical documentary. (My only historian criticism: I had a difficult time suspending disbelief to believe one banished family of six could build a house that size.)

There is a Eurocentric hubris in this New World setting that drives the whole film, and permeates it with a constant tenor of foreboding.  Embracing the theological narrative  that women are inherently evil,  the artistic imaginings of the witches in these New England woods come straight out of the text of the Malleus Maleficarum (Hammer of the Witches).  These include nuances that emphasize the idea of control, that the colonists “own” the land, can tame the land and woods, can repress women. It was a brilliant choice to have the continental trials as the focus of the witch portrayals and of the dialogue, instead of the expected Salem Village,  given the Plimoth Plantation-like setting.

The microcosm of the family spiraling out of control in their attempt to exert control on their new environment while still desperately clinging to their continental views of witchcraft and women, mirrors the macrocosm of what women are politically and socially facing now: men pushing back against women asserting themselves and their own agency.  It’s possible that this reflection of our current cultural struggles, artistically and wondrously portrayed in a time where the rootedness of those beliefs began that offers the real horror here, and why so many people feel it speaks to a “now” even more than “then.”

Happy Halloween.  Live Deliciously.

Upcoming Appearance: TONIGHT! Spidora poems featured in Clare Gallery

She’s Alive!!!

4 Spidora - vintage photo 3

Spidora exhibit, c. late 1800s. Photographer unknown.

Two “Spidora” poems will be featured in an exhibit and reading at the Clare Gallery in Hartford.  “Spidora Embroiders Her Words,” a concrete poem from my Strange Girls collection, will be on display, and the poem “Spidora’s in the Pink” inspired by contemporary artist Amy Hannum’s work, will be highlighted in tonight’s reading.

Clare Gallery
Thursday, September 20th
6 pm to 8 pm, reading begins at 7 pm
Free, parking also free in Saint’s Lot

The Webs We Weave is the newest Clare Gallery installation and includes paintings by international artist Amy Hannum and poems by poets inspired by her Spiderweb Series.  Ms. Hannum captures abandoned webs onto her canvas, making the web itself part of her medium, and during an artist talk in October will share her method for transferring the delicate web into her paintings.

Other poets included in the exhibition are: Joe Adomavicia, Eileen Albrizio, Steve Balkun, Tarringo T. Basile-Vaughan, Joanie DiMartino, Brent Terry, and Rhonda Ward.

The exhibit will be on view until Wednesday, October 31.

Clare Gallery is located in the Franciscan Center for Urban Ministry at 285 Church Street, Hartford, CT. Free parking is across the street in Saint’s Lot. The entrance is handicapped accessible. Phone: (860) 756-4034.

Upcoming Appearance: TWO this weekend–Book Barn & Colchester History Museum

Happy National Poetry Month!

I’m kicking off the celebrations in a big way–with a featured reading followed by leading an informal workshop!

Front Cover FINAL

Book Barn
Niantic, CT
Poetry Reading
Friday, April 6th
6 p.m., Free

Joanie DiMartino, Suzy Lamson, student voice Holly Richmond and Glenn Shea will read their work.  Refreshments to follow.  This reading will take place at Book Barn Store Four.  For directions click here.

Last summer I had the pleasure of reading along with Suzy and Glenn, and it was such a wonderful evening we decided to have an encore performance, inviting youth poet Holly Richmond to join us!  I’ll be reading selections from Strange Girls and my upcoming manuscript, “Wood to Skin.”


Colchester History Museum
Colchester, CT
First Saturday
Saturday, April 7th
11 a.m. to 2 p.m., free

CHS museum administrator and poet Joanie DiMartino will lead an informal workshop on writing poems inspired by history and historic artifacts, then write your own poem about the history of Colchester or an artifact in the Museum!

For more information or directions, email administrator@colchesterhistory.org or visit the CHS website.

Upcoming Appearance: Tea & Talk on Militant Suffrage at The Barnum Museum


Alice Paul (seated, far right) and members of the National Woman’s Party strategize over tea. c. 1923.

‘No More Pink Teas:’ The Militant Surge for Woman Suffrage

The 19-teens saw an increase in bold suffrage activity, from large parades in state capitals, such as the one held in Hartford, CT, to picketing the White House. Join Progressive-era suffrage historian Joanie DiMartino to discover how national and CT suffragists participated in a surge of militant political activism that led to women gaining the right to vote in 1920.  A perfect way to celebrate Women’s History Month!

Sunday, March 25, 2018
2 PM; free for members / $7.50 suggested donation for non-members
includes refreshments
Seating is limited; to register click here
Barnum Museum
820 Main Street, Bridgeport, CT

Bidding For Good: Woman Suffrage Talk

I’m pleased to offer my presentation, “‘No More Pink Teas’: The Militant Surge for Woman Suffrage” talk as part of a fundraiser for the Connecticut League of History Organizations (CLHO), an amazing state-wide organization that serves the CT history community.


Alva Belmont’s tea service.

For the link to bid, click here.  The deadline is November 18, 2017.  A description of the talk, which can also be found on another page of my website, follows:

“The 19-teens saw an increase in bold suffrage activity, from large parades in state capitals, such as the one held in Hartford, CT, to picketing the White House.  Join Progressive-era suffrage historian Joanie DiMartino to discover how national and Connecticut suffragists participated in a surge of militant political activism that led to women gaining the right to vote in 1920.

An excellent talk to celebrate Women’s History Month (March), Women’s Equality Day (August 26), voting in November–or any time!”

As for the fine print regarding the auction:

“This talk may include an exhibit of reproduction suffrage memorabilia and/or handouts.  Speaker will travel to your site / public location to present this talk, and will offer suggestions to help you plan the event. This program pairs well with a tea!

This item must be redeemed between March 1 and November 30, 2018.

Speaker will travel within 2 hours / 100 miles driving distance from Mystic, Connecticut.”

If you know a historic site, library, or organization willing to rent a public space to host my talk, please bid–opening bid only $50!–it supports a dynamic league which accomplishes great work throughout the state of CT for large and small museums alike, and my talk is engaging, informative, and marvelous fun!  (And I’ve no doubt the women in the photo below would agree!)


National Woman’s Party taking tea.

Interview & Poems at Poor Yorick Journal

I’m thrilled to announce that I have a lengthy interview and several poems from my “Wood to Skin” manuscript up at Poor Yorick: A Journal of Rediscovered Objects.

Poor Yorick Journal features contemporary literature inspired by rediscovered objects of material culture, so it was a natural fit to send them my poems based on whaling and the Charles W. Morgan, herself an artifact.


Charles W. Morgan under sail, 1920.

The interview, by Kevin Hudson, can be found here.

Three poems also appear in the journal; one directly relates to the Morgan, and was inspired by Mrs. Tinkham’s cabin, a small deck house built for Captain Tinkham’s wife after she suffered repeated bouts of seasickness.  Click here to read the poem.


Mrs. Tinkham’s cabin, recreated.  Photo courtesy of Mystic Seaport.

What makes Poor Yorick Journal unique is that it doesn’t simply post the poems; it also connects readers to the visual art of material culture through photos and images, and offers essays on the artifacts or topics featured in the poems or prose.  This allows readers to discover more in-depth information about the object in history that inspired the writer.  In the case of the particular poem I wrote, Beth Mann offered a footnoted essay on “Sister Sailors,” or captain’s wives who joined their husbands at sea, and what their lives were like aboard a whaler.  I enjoyed Beth’s essay, and you can too, here.

The final two poems of mine in Poor Yorick Journal are taken from a series of ekphrastic vignettes I wrote inspired by early engravings of whaling.


“The Capture of a Whale Off St. Annaland, Holland, Oct. 7, 1682.” From Whale Ships and Whaling: A Pictorial History.

The titles of the poems are taken from the titles of the engravings and images.  The companion poem to the above artwork can be read here.


“[New Bedford from Fairhaven, 1853].” From Whale Ships and Whaling: A Pictorial History.

The engravings can be enlarged and viewed in closer detail on the Poor Yorick Journal website.  They are featured next to each vignette, followed by a short bio.  The above engraving is of New Bedford, the Charles W. Morgan’s original home port, and in my poem I imagine that the vessel in the image is the Morgan herself, as she sailed out of New Bedford in 1853 on her fourth voyage.  Captain Ripley’s son served as cabin boy. This poem can be enjoyed here.

As “Wood to Skin” continues to grow into what I hope is a unique collection of substance, I’m proud to have the support and interest of history-centered literary publications, such as Poor Yorick Journal. 

STRANGE GIRLS available locally!

The circus–and sideshow!–returned to town this summer!

I’m happy to announce that due to my reading there last week, Strange Girls is back in stock at Bank Square Books in Mystic, our local, fiercely independent, bookstore!  I’ve heard from many people who would like to purchase a copy, and I recommend supporting a local business in the process! Nowhere near Mystic?  Don’t worry–Strange Girls is also available on the Bank Square Books website.

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey may be gone, but the wild sideshows and daredevil circus acts at the turn of the 20th-century can be revisited again and again inside these pages!  On with the show!

Front Cover FINAL