Kate Bolton Bonnici
A TRUE & JUST RECORD
FORTHCOMING NOVEMBER 2023
Kate Bolton Bonnici’s A True & Just Record movingly demonstrates poetry’s capacity to forge critical and philosophical dialogue across time and space. Deploying the dialogic rhetoric of stichomythia as a method of both reading and writing, Bonnici stages a conversation among sixteenth- and seventeenth-century plays, poems, and pamphlets; classical and contemporary poetry, criticism, and theory; and her own poetic meditations on memory and loss. The result is a daring and gorgeous poetic conversation that insists on the centrality of form and sound to both personal narrative and scholarly analysis.
- MELISSA E. SANCHEZ, Donald T. Regan Professor, University of Pennsylvania
Witch as spell, curse, praise, eulogy, recovery, incantation, archival raid and save, library as cathedral and books as catechism—as befits poetry as anarchic art, in Kate Bolton Bonnici’s hands the sacred is barbaric and the profane is holy. The link between the personal and autobiographical and the social and (inter)national is plaited with strands of song, poetry forms, and ledgers of profit weighed against loss. Bonnici’s witches are revolutionary figures she links to family history, her grandmothers in particular, to show us how history is made flesh. She brings the archive to life and recovers lives otherwise lost as fragmentary entries. The way Bonnici grows these bits and pieces into cogent arguments and testimonies, philosophical treatises and affective insights, makes it easy to admire her craft and craftiness, her sly ease among the age-old and complexity of the archive, her care and grace as she handles and arranges dismissive facts about women destroyed by bigotry. The title, borrowed from a record of female persecution, is all but true and just until Bonnici’s reckoning. She imagines truth and justice into the lives of her women and memorialises her grandmothers, the best poetry in coalition with an awareness of women who shape our personal and public histories. A wicked and wise achievement.
- FRED D'AGUIAR, author of Letters to America and For the Unnamed
In her poem “Echo,” Kate Bolton Bonnici quotes John Webster’s macabre 1613 masterpiece The Duchess of Malfi: “I will not talk with thee / For thou art a dead thing.” Yet it is Bonnici’s profound project in A True & Just Record to talk with the dead—and by with, I mean not at but rather alongside, or as in harmony. Bonnici describes her imaginative engagement with the language and the thinking of archival texts as “immersive marginalia,” an approach that allows her to expand, subvert, affirm, and reimagine enduring questions about gender, authority, and selfhood. Bonnici’s collection reveals that, far from being remote and unapproachable, centuries-old writings remain vibrantly relevant to our own historical moment. Her deeply humane book seeks quickening rediscoveries, her poems on each new page reaching to build new and generative connections across times and selves: “And where shall we meet? And when?”
- KIMBERLY JOHNSON, author of Fatal
This incredibly insightful investigation of sensational witch trial pamphlets, rendered richly with witch stichomythia, is a communion of conversation deeply engaging historical and present poet discourse. Delightfully provocative lines bring fold and unfold of conjure and inquisition treatise. Here, a multitude of stellar engagements delve spiritedly into what sonic and visual presences may be made of form, utterance, accusation, exchange, and page on the troubled edge of devilish societal inquisition with interplay delivering euphony, cacophony—brilliance—in incantatory verse-play feat. Bring on the prizes, this poetry is delicious!
- ALLISON ADELLE HEDGE COKE, author of Look at This Blue
A TRUE & JUST RECORD
Night Burial is a graceful and searing debut from a keen lyric intelligence. In poems that move, ecstatically, across the materials of grief song, hagiography, sacred ritual, visual art, and liturgy, Night Burial mourns a lost mother and forges astonishing new language for tracing the contours of monumental sorrow. These are poems that make me weep and rejoice; I weep for the poet's loss, even as I rejoice to witness these complex, harrowing poems perform their radiant work. Hold this book close, reader; I will, too.
Such gratitude for the chance to observe what Kate Bolton Bonnici calls 'witchspeak,' wherein she tells us, 'I deliver a child daily into want.' Such gratitude to read the lyrics of 'old stories' that 'say burn the skin / of what you've become.' Such gratitude to stand with these poems between Euripides and Homeric hymns and The Midwives Book of 1671, between silence and that space wherein 'between us every work / is dirt-swaddled.' Every elegy is a bloodline. Every elegy is 'an ancient loop—someone / looking means someone's gone. / Something unequal / makes its way forward.' Bonnici's beautiful and moving Night Burial is a daybook for daughters, an elegy for mothers, a lyric work where 'my mother remembers the echo / from her mother's heels in the hall.'
In this poetic account of a daughter's vigil in the valley of the shadow of death, Kate Bolton Bonnici considers what it means for the living to attend to the dying. To attend by being physically and emotionally present to a loved one in the harrowing transition from life to death. To attend by giving care and comfort. To attend by paying attention, by taking note of each step in the inexorable journey. Reflecting on the ubiquity of death and dying in life, literature, folklore, ritual, and shared memory, Night Burial is an unflinching prayer of devotion.
KIKI PETROSINO, judge's citation
"The elegy is, in the hands of a great poet, a paradox: the dead are not dead but alive, here, in these lines. The elegy opens a window, a portal, a pinprick through which the dead might speak. In Night Burial, a mother is alive again because her daughter, Kate Bolton Bonnici, troubled the page with her grief, troubled the page with a poetic intelligence as open and billowing as her heart's vast loss. This is an astonishing debut by a poet who just wants her mother back, so she did what she could. And what she could is here in your hands—a rare luminescence, a poetry beyond poetry."
- KATIE FORD
Dr. Kate Bolton Bonnici grew up in Alabama and holds degrees from Harvard, NYU Law (JD), UC Riverside (MFA), and UCLA (PhD). Her debut collection, Night Burial, won the 2020 Colorado Prize for Poetry. Her work has appeared in The Georgia Review, Image, Arts & Letters, Tupelo Quarterly, Southern Humanities Review, The Maine Review, CounterText, Exemplaria, and elsewhere. She is an Assistant Professor of English at Pepperdine University.