WINNER OF THE MAINE LITERARY AWARD FOR POETRY!
FINALIST FOR THE JULIE SUK AWARD!
SELECTED AS ONE OF NPR'S 2018 GREAT READS!
ONE OF BOOK RIOT'S 50 MUST READ POETRY COLLECTIONS OF 2019!
In 1912 the State of Maine forcibly evicted an interracial community of roughly forty-five people from Malaga Island, a small island off the coast of Phippsburg, Maine. Though Malaga had been their home for generations, nine residents (including the entire Marks family) were committed to the Maine School for the Feeble Minded in Pownal, Maine. The others struggled to find homes on other islands or on the mainland, where they were often unwelcome. The Malaga school was dismantled and rebuilt as a chapel on another island. Seventeen graves were exhumed from the Malaga cemetery, consolidated into five caskets, and reburied at the Maine School for the Feeble Minded. Just one year after the start of the eviction proceedings, the Malaga community was erased.
Midden confronts the events and over one hundred years of silence that surround this shameful incident in Maine’s history. Utilizing a wide range of poetic styles—epistolary poems to ghosts, persona poems, erasure poems, interior poems, interviews and instructions, poems framed both in the past and in the present—Midden delves into the vital connections between land, identity, and narrative and asks how we can heal the generations and legacies of damage that result when all three of these are deliberately taken in an attempt to rob people of their very humanity. The book is a poetic excavation of loss, a carving of the landscape of memory, and a reckoning with and tribute to the ghosts we carry and step over, often without our even knowing it.
Foreword: Midden, When Glory Comes xiii
I Walk My Road at Dusk 1
The Way Home 3
Dear ghosts, I pick the list 5
The Story of Fire 6
Their Objects 7
Shipwreck at New Meadows 8
Bas-Relief: Jake Marks 9
Dear ghosts, in winter my camp on the hill becomes 10
Interview with the Dead 11
Dear ghosts, because you tell me to, I begin again 16
So Many Things 17
The Tray of Spades 18
Dear ghosts, my neighbor catches you with her camera 21
The Schoolteacher Answers the Call 22
Sestina Fragments: Our Teacher Prays for Bread 25
Dear ghosts, I wake wishing my body 27
No Man’s Land 28
Annie in the Boat 30
Dear ghosts, how can we stop the sunlight spinning the story 31
John Eason Stops Preaching 32
This Is Our Home Now 33
Sucker Fish 35
What William Marks Knows, Age 3 36
Dear ghosts, with a red pencil I draw a map. 37
Each Morning Drowns in Open Air 38
The Procedure 39
Upon Opening Another Folded Day 40
Dear ghosts, because you are dead and restless 42
Lottie Marks Dreams Escape 43
Dear ghosts, there was a man who lived here 44
Lottie Marks on Silence 45
Agent Pease’s Defense 46
Dear ghosts, when I said all I ever wanted was land 49
Yellow Surprise 50
How to Build a Houseboat 51
Shed Night 52
Potter’s Field 53
Dear ghosts, you say all our bones are made of paper 54
Paddling the Storm 55
Descendant’s Riddle 56
Dear ghosts, this land harvests the body to rubble. 58
Final Invocation for Ghosts 62
“With a fiercely intelligent listening, Midden reveals Julia Bouwsma’s imagination and research as she investigates the early 20th-century history of Malaga Island, Maine and the devastating state violence against a 'mixed-race' fishing community of white and African Diasporic people who lived there. Bouwsma employs lyric, persona, and lyric narrative to investigate these histories of violent displacement, gentrification, and incarceration. Here 'each page [is] a rupture of self' and the tongue 'becomes the prism / of fracture, land of washed green light—' She reminds us of how porous the bodies of a place and its people are, how loss is written into the bodies of both. When the dead are asked, 'What did you leave behind?' they answer: 'Our arms spread out around it all // until our hands could not / meet our hands.' In Coming to Writing, Hélène Cixous writes: 'If you do not possess language, you can be possessed by it…' It seems to me that Julia Bouwsma has, with imagination and humility, somehow committed her language to such possession. Her work is shaped by the elemental: bonelight, sea, snow, 'mud that will never / wash out of the hem,' her memory’s hem.”
Kingdom Animalia and the black maria
Julia Bouwsma’s chilling tale of the quietus of Malaga Island is shattering in its simplicity. The ease with which an ‘undesirable’ culture can be summarily disappeared is not a grim aberration relegated to a long-ago past—it’s a monster of the here-and-now. This is a chilling commentary, compassionate and character-driven, penned by a poet who is resolute and relentless as witness.
Vividly reimagined and gorgeously rendered, Julia Bouwsma’s Midden gives voice to the citizens of Malaga Island, off the coast of Maine, who early in the twentieth century were removed from their homes, their lives destroyed. Bouwsma writes, ‘I tried to write the island / to life.’ In this devastating and beautiful collection, she does just that, as she expands the field of documentary poetics. These poems bear witness to the tragedy of Malaga Island and demand that we remember our country’s violence to people and land. Julia Bouwsma’s voice is eloquent and urgent.