—Emily Ursuliak, author of Throwing the Diamond Hitch
from "Hat Box" for Lucy Maude Montgomery
What becomes of the women burned for witchcraft, locked up for so-called delinquency, cast aside in favour of a more palatable expression of femininity?
A History of Touch is a poetry collection about women in folklore and history who were ill, disabled, or otherwise labelled ‘hysteric.’ The work bears witness to the lives of women with varying experiences, such as a woman whose epilepsy was mistaken for demonic possession, Sarah Winchester’s grief, Mary Roff and her love of leeches, and the “witch”, Biddy Early. There is a poem about Bridget Cleary, who upon displaying her independence was burned to death by her husband, believing her to be a changeling. The collection includes pieces on anchoresses, Rosemary Kennedy, and accused witches. Each poem discusses an aspect of or a moment in a woman’s life, connecting these moments to different aspects of embodiment and the natural world. A History of Touch is an examination of women vilified or left behind for their strength or their weakness. This book uses strong poetic imagery and metaphor to elevate details drawn from real life to that of poetry. It comprises of three sections, each drifting between biographical poetry ("Scrying","About Biddy Early"), experimental poetry ("Projections of a Glass Womb", which manipulates the text of a midwifery textbook), fairy tale sequences ("What a Pretty Sight"), folklore, ("Macha", "Flickers") and pieces that incorporate elements of confessional poetry ("Bloodletting","Whiskers").
In-depth explorations of topics explored in A History of Touch, as well as interviews, further resources, and writing activities. Watch this space!
Through a series of raw and unflinching first-person portraits, A History of Touch deftly dismantles the myth of so-called ‘difficult’ or ‘hysteric’ women throughout history. With empathic imagination, Vance merges feminist exploration with poetic inquiry— breathing new life into these enigmatic figures. From the Derrymaquirk bog bodies to women with Phossy jaw, Vance’s gift lies in her unique lyric precision and her ability to create startling images which surprise, unsettle and ultimately illuminate her chosen subject matter. A striking debut.
—Sandy Pool, author of Undark: An Oratorio
A History of Touch reads like a benediction and an execration at the altar of women. In this collection, Vance spews an anti-prayer; cried out over all the witches we burned at the stake. With lines like, “She picks hemlock and fashions it into a suit” and “I prefer thickets of thorn bushes caressing my thighs,” Vance does not shy away from tainted and rancid imagery. She does not let us run from our history. She does not make this easy on us ... Thank the goddess.
—Rayanne Haines, author of Tell the Birds Your Body Is Not a Gun
Erin Emily Ann Vance is one of Canada’s most vital and brilliant emerging writers. To read her work is to encounter a fresh, authentic, and haunting voice, one that is thrillingly new. Deftly bridging divides between genres, tones, and forms, her poetry evokes poignant and indelible images.
Her debut poetry collection, A History of Touch, is beautiful and disturbing in equal measure. These carefully crafted poems draw on history, witchcraft, folklore, true crime, and the Gothic to explore cultural and intimate narratives around women’s embodiment. Vance’s language is always gorgeous, but the effect here is often powerfully disquieting. This book is a stunning achievement.”
—Mike Thorn, author of Shelter for the Damned and Darkest Hours