Briony Willis


WITCHby Rebecca Tamás, Penned in the Margins, pp. 119, £9.99. (paperback)

In her latest collection, WITCH, Rebecca Tamás explores the triumphs and oppression, the strengths and weaknesses, the power and the fears that generations of women embody.

Released to coincide with the pagan festival of the Spring Equinox, WITCH brings the modern woman into a sacred and safe space where nature, feminism, eroticism and philosophy blur together to kindle our journey to self-discovery. The tone of the poems are incredibly open, carrying no judgement or rejection, no pity, shame, or guilt; Tamás truly allows for free and radical expression of not just a woman’s pain, but of her dreams, and desires as well.

again somehow the witch finds it is about eating and not eating
they don’t eat and so they are made to eat
she asks a policeman ‘what is with this eating thing?’
but he doesn’t know why just that when a woman eats
she is eating for the state
when she watches her friend forced to lie back and be fed
she retches

— ‘Witch And The Suffragettes’, p.32

As readers, we initially find ourselves lost in Tamás‘s rich and chaotic symbolism, before allowing ourselves to relax and unfold into its strangeness. She carefully constructs her vivid and untamed language away from male supremacy and desire.

Tamás draws on the figure of the witch one of the most fascinating of the feminine archetypes — as both a sensual and philosophical source in the search for autonomy and female independence. Her activation of the witch archetype raises questions as to whether there are aspects of our own personal experiences that we wish to transgress, borders that we wish to cross.

the witch thinks about what it would be like to
fuck woods and not the government
the stretch of land is green but has redness in the soil
the trees gather around a path from Roman times which
has sunk into the ground an opening flashing and brightening
fucking the trees is giving back the means of production to the trees
xylem and blood vessel outreach tell me how it is when there’s a storm
not that different because we all shake but some don’t
have a shelter it can’t be made romantic branches are entering
different parts of your body

— ‘Witch Wood’, p.41

Though she is a figure notoriously chewed up by mainstream appropriation, for generations the figure of the witch has raised a necessary and revolutionary rebellion against patriarchal suppression and its negative presentations of womanhood. The witch is autonomous, without fear, relying heavily on the natural world, her intuition, and her connection with the Divine Feminine to heal spiritual, psychological, and physical ailments.

We are all capable of activating this archetype when we take the time to explore our own intuitions, emotions, body, and mind as exemplified in WITCH, and in fact, many of us engage with this part of our psyche whether we intend to or not. But, as society turned away from the natural world, our attitude shifted. While in ancient societies shamanic figures were a valued part of the community, over the last few centuries the figure of the witch has become synonymous with darkness and harm, as a figure that violently taints and seduces male autonomy.

Tamás‘s writing crucially rejects the latter rhetoric by redefining witchcraft away from the mainstream fantasy and reconnecting it with its origin. WITCH is solely about a woman reaching her full potential, who explores her power to both destroy and create. She shows the readers what it’s like to live outside of definition, a character that is both fiercely sexy and fiercely pure.

Are you a witch?
Are you
Have you had relations with the devil?
Have you
Have you had relations with the devil and what took place? 

— ‘Interrogation (1)’, p.17

Tamás‘s witch is not a distant, evil and sexualised being but rather a relatively normal, and hugely relatable character. As we are forced to picture the self-expression of the collection’s protagonist with sober eyes, we hold a sensible mirror to our own self-discovery and begin to fully and completely accept ourselves.

the devil always looked at the witch with an expression of compassion which was the same expression she had on her face when she looked at him
but when he talked about freedom he looked painfully quiet
like the kind of person who casts no shadow and the witch wondered if actually
that was because
her face looked like that

  — ‘Witch and the Devil,’ p.30

The most beautiful aspect of Tamás‘s  poetic collection is her focus on the female body. The belief that ‘good girls don’t desire and good girls don’t hunger’ is so deeply embedded in the female experience, that the fact that women do hunger and do desire creates so much shame and self-loathing we completely dissociate from our bodies. Women carry on living as fragmented pieces of a whole, making it impossible for us to feel fully and completely human. We start to wonder if we can survive what we worship. But, Tamás channels power back by persistently glorifying the female body and normalising autonomous female sexuality. The poems are significantly sensual, a surge of released visceral energy, that are thoroughly enjoyable and experimental.

Tamás does a wonderful job of creating a space without cohesive structure, a space that makes it easy for us to breakdown unwavering patriarchal confines. The collection is empowering, allowing us to listen to and to love a symbol of our own repressed and exhausted psyche. The fact that the collection reanimates female silence makes WITCH a necessary addition to the bookshelf of women who want more.

Words by Briony Willis.

For more information and to purchase WITCH by Rebecca Tamas, visit Penned in the Margins

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