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"Witch," by Patricia Nelson, read by the poet

"Witch" (which appears in our latest issue, Issue 7.1) is already stunning on the page, but listening to the poet read it out loud adds new richness. Patricia Nelson's voice slows the experience; she helps us savor the poem's sound and magic.

"Witch" is built of nine tercets, all framed by the epigraph: "The witch speaks to Hansel and Gretel." In this reimagining of the classic fairytale, the children are not in control. This is no happy ending. But even from the villain's point of view, Nelson dreams a world that is simultaneously haunting and hypnotizing. The speaker strings us through a dark dream. She lulls the children (and us) into a trance with the poem itself.

In the first line, "How gladly you forgot it all," she begins a series of addresses to the children as they slip into her grasp. The mythical gingerbread house, its wonders, and the witch's hypnotic words have distracted the children, and she studies them calmly as a predator studies her unsuspecting prey.

We can credit, in large part, the enchantment of the poem to Nelson's playfulness with sound and repetition. This is especially apparent as she reads aloud lines such as "glances knotted with a hook," and "the chittering forest of the fairy tale." Consonance and assonance both bring delight to the eye and ear here, with lines like "copse with odd things," "collapsing light," "scatter / in your dreams," and "tattered stories."

As we approach the closing of the poem, lines such as "suddenly close like the smell of rain, / the small dark circles one upon the other" signal twilight and the dark fate of the children, as the witch edges in.

In the last stanza, the speaker leaves us with this haunting image:

The color of ghost that is suddenly everywhere, more permanent than you.

There's a certain macabre finality to these lines, as if the dark deed has already been done. The children become the "color of ghost" and it is the memory of them that becomes more permanent than the children themselves.

I hope you will enjoy reading and listening to Patricia Nelson's poem as much as I have. I look forward to reading so much more from this poet, who continues to transport me into this dark forest of lines each time I revisit "Witch."

— Barbara Varanka


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