Julia Bouwsma (Poetry) | western mountains, ME
Blurbs, Press & Reviews
“Julia Bouwsma’s chilling tale of the quietus of Malaga Island is shattering in its simplicity. The ease with which an ‘undesirable’ culture can be summarily disappeared is not a grim aberration relegated to a long-ago past―it’s a monster of the here-and-now. This is a chilling commentary, compassionate and character-driven, penned by a poet who is resolute and relentless as witness.”
“With a fiercely intelligent listening, Midden reveals Julia Bouwsma’s imagination and research as she investigates the early 20th-century history of Malaga Island, Maine and the devastating state violence against a ‘mixed-race’ fishing community of white and African Diasporic people who lived there. Bouwsma employs lyric, persona, and lyric narrative to investigate these histories of violent displacement, gentrification, and incarceration. Here ‘each page [is] a rupture of self’ and the tongue ‘becomes the prism / of fracture, land of washed green light―’ She reminds us of how porous the bodies of a place and its people are, how loss is written into the bodies of both. When the dead are asked, ‘What did you leave behind?’ they answer: ‘Our arms spread out around it all // until our hands could not / meet our hands.’ In Coming to Writing, Hélène Cixous writes: ‘If you do not possess language, you can be possessed by it…’ It seems to me that Julia Bouwsma has, with imagination and humility, somehow committed her language to such possession. Her work is shaped by the elemental: bonelight, sea, snow, ‘mud that will never / wash out of the hem,’ her memory’s hem.”
Work by Bloodlight
It’s strange how so much beauty can come out of this often painful, always unflinching work. In poems that range through the physical world—the weasel in the henhouse, the calligrapher at his table—Bouwsma’s language is at once muscular and lyrical, her voice both passionate and honest.
The elegiac is a most tender and yet most rigorous accounting. Every detail of its fact and decorum must register upon flesh, upon the syllables of flesh. In Work by Bloodlight, Bouwsma unfailingly discovers the higher registers and the keenest syllables. They beautifully prove to be a “wingspan against snow.”
What an earthy song, these poems! They rise up from the dark earth, the images quirked and turned to serve a raw transformative vision in this twenty-first century book of seeing with your eyes open. This book will be useful for visionaries, taxidermists, and all those who look for the exact knowledge of the sacred in profane earthy humanness.
Among the rural, forgotten lives lived across this globe, across these centuries, a secret is shared: There is no difference between what we love and what we fear. Work By Bloodlight, a book firmly planted in its particular plot of Maine land, the author’s farm, draws from folk tales, mythos, realistic magic, and one woman’s life to tap this collective rural conscience and bring its wisdom into this moment, for all. I love this book, and more: I need it.
—Rebecca Gayle Howell