Almost immediately after beginning to read, I felt compelled to write a review of this pamphlet.
Malkin by Camille Ralphs is a collection of poetic testimonies of the accused from the Pendle Witch Trials of 1612. Published by The Emma Press, the pamphlet is wildly different from their other collections, and is all the more unique for that. You feel like you’ve delved into something harrowing.
Malkin isn’t the easiest read, but once you’ve grasped the phonetics of free spelling (used throughout the pamphlet) you do feel like these are genuine, unique voices. The free spelling seems to give clues to the character of the speaker – and helps to recreate the tone and rhythm of their speech internally. The little appendix towards the end of the pamphlet gives a little background on the identity of our storytellers and the relationships between them. I found myself flipping backwards and forwards almost compulsively, and it really did enrich the experience. You begin to see how dangerous and powerful words can be to convict, and whether you believe the confessions or sense the desperation in them, each narrator’s play to be heard commands respect.
The poems float between boasts, fantastical testimony, and stories of grief with wonderful (yet graphic) imagery – ‘dropsied / glops of blud’, ‘frakking for a numb spot / where the devil plumbd / his tongue’… And potentially my favourite, from a woman condemned by her own artistic endeavours: ‘I came, I went / in clay of ashh n human hair.’
I couldn’t help but keep reading Malkin through to the end in one reading. I think even those that have developed a dislike of the forms of Middle English (perhaps through enforced school reading) will be able to hear the voices at play. Remembering to read the free spelling to yourself (listening for phonetics) is actually a pretty good practice in the best way to read any poetry. Listen to the rhythms, the twists around the letters…
You can buy the pamphlet via The Emma Press website. The Press has been doing some amazing work in making these wee collections accessible, and they’ve already managed to get their entire portfolio into a Waterstones branch. It’s incredible to see pamphlets there!