Susana H. Case’s book of poems, Salem in Séance is constructed around the idea of a séance at which participants in the Salem witch frenzy of the late seventeenth century speak to the author, giving their different views of what happened. And the author sometimes speaks back.

The actors do not appear according to the chronology of the historical events, but in three sections by roles: Detentions, Accusations and Authorities. The characters are a little hard to keep track of, perhaps partly because so many names begin with P: Proctors, Putnams, Porters and Parrish. As a person who likes history I wanted, at first, a list of who was involved to keep track of them all. Later, I concluded that the lack of such a list and the neglect of chronological sequence adds to the impression of chaos and confusion that must have prevailed at the time.

Case weaves texts from the period into the poems, distinguished by use of italics. Her own comments are indicated by italics within brackets. These interjections are used with restraint, which gives them more force; a great deal can be suggested about alternative possibilities and understandings in a few words. Sometimes the speaker responds briefly to the interjection, other times not. These interruptions never bend the story the speaker is telling.

A poem which uses both kinds of insertions is “A Father’s Son.” The speaker is Cotton Mather.

In 1692, my excoriating father, Increase,
finally brings the colony’s new charter
from England.
We can take witches such as have rendered
themselves obnoxious
to trial.
[A Mather through and through.]
I am my father’s son. This battleground
with Satan―accusations

fly unleashed, like my vowels used to whoosh
through echoing rooms, women
on brooms.
[To your political advantage.]
The threat is burning for eternity―
forgiveness is bad for business.

The cure for a surfeit of witches is
hangings―nineteen―
before a lasting skepticism.

Two dogs full with evil in their eyes
are hanged by the neck
on Gallows Hill.

Selections from these poems don’t convey the full impact, but I’ll include one more short poem which is a good example of Case’s tight, no words wasted, style.

Letter

Nathaniel Hawthorne,
ashamed
of great-grandfather
John Hathorne,
trial magistrate who believed
in guilty
before being proven
guilty, a very religious
man, wealthy,
powerful,
the only magistrate involved in Salem
not to repent,
restores the w
to his family name
for reasons of dissociation
now that he is done with college,
the w
dropped
three hundred years before.

He, as much as anyone,
understands the importance
of a letter.

Salem in Séance is published by WordTech Editions, the imprint which is publishing my book, Made and Remade. I am happy to see my book on the same list with such a well-crafted work.

You can find out more, read more sample poems. or order a copy via: http://www.wordtechweb.com/case.html

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