Witch by Rebecca Tamás

14th May 2019

In the debut poetry collection by Rebecca Tamás, the occult entwines with the political to stunning effect.

Layered with vivid imagery and spanning from the witch trials of the 17th century to the present day, Witch by Rebecca Tamás is by turns furious and filthy, hilarious and delicate.

The book itself is beautiful, its cover design depicting a bacchanalian group of women with hands linked, suspended upside-down in a downward-pointing triangle: itself a symbol soaked in meaning.

There are traditional witchcraft associations of water, the feminine and the lunar, but it is reminiscent too of the triangles used in concentration camps, later reclaimed, to label LGBT individuals and sex workers amongst others.

My PR copy came with a tarot card and feathers tucked inside the sleeve and a crystal slipped into the envelope, a beautiful touch adding to the sense that great care has been taken with the process of turning Witch into a physical object.

Loosely structured into two threads, the bulk of the collection follows the titular Witch as she travels through time and space (in one poem, she finds herself on Mars), interspersed with shorter pieces labelled as spells for particular uses.

WITCH glories in its woman-ness, reclaiming concepts traditionally used to silence or demean us: blood, emotion, sexuality, associations with the mystical or profane.Here, words as weapons: there are hexes and charms, invocations reflecting the increasingly surreal political terrain we inhabit and a seeking of new ways of moving through a world sliding into social and ecological ruin.

Witch glories in its woman-ness, reclaiming concepts traditionally used to silence or demean us: blood, emotion, sexuality, associations with the mystical or profane.

Through the narrative poems, Witch and her sometimes-lover, Devil, stand baffled outside of the constructs of society and thus reveal it in all its absurdity as they slip effortlessly between genders, converse with God, watch the suffragettes as they are tortured and force-fed, and think about what it truly means to fuck the government.

Tamás’ writing is dense and at times abstract. I often found myself near breathless reading some of the poems, their run-on clauses inducing a kind of trance state which pulls the reader further in. Others are sparse, white space separating individual words and phrases into abortive stutters.

While at times the writing feels uncontrolled, the mastery of language is in fact acute and each line is honed to its essentials. Even in its most impenetrable moments, there is never a sense that Rebecca Tamás is writing without a lucid goal in mind. This is a collection which will only benefit from repeated readings to tease out its secrets further.

Often forgotten in its modern-day definition, the word ‘occult’ has its roots in the Latin ‘occulere’, to conceal or hide: another double-meaning appropriate for this bewitching collection. Rebecca Tamás has woven her poems through with power, drawing strength from that which is mystical and transcendent as well as the obscene and corporeal.

We are living through an era in which language has been weaponised against us to obfuscate reality and divest us of power: the poems in Witch are wild-eyed and covered in blood, snatching it back.

Witch by Rebecca Tamás is out now from Penned in the Margins