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  • Writer's pictureMilena Williamson

Behind the Poem: 'Some Natural Notes About Her Body'

Updated: Sep 14, 2022

Happy Thursday everyone! I hope this blog post finds you safe and well wherever you are and in whatever state of lockdown you’re in.

Today I want to introduce a new kind of blog post called Behind the Poem. Have you ever wondered how a poem gets written? How many previous drafts exist? Where a writer finds their inspiration? Well then hopefully you will like this blog post!

For every one of my poems that is published from this point onward, I’ll do a Behind the Poem blog post. I hope that this will give you a behind the scenes, sneak peak look at what it’s like to be a poet. In addition, I’ll include links to where you can read the poems and buy the literary journals. It’s so important to support small, independent presses, especially those that support emerging writers as they find their way forward!

A screenshot of a folder with many poem drafts
Yes, these are my actual drafts.

Today I’m celebrating the launch of Banshee #11, which has published my poem ‘Some Natural Notes About Her Body.’ Banshee Press is a small independent Irish publisher established in 2014. It was founded and edited by three writers, Laura Cassidy, Claire Hennessy and Eimear Ryan.

‘Some Natural Notes About Her Body’ is about Bridget Cleary, an Irish woman who was murdered by her family on suspicion of being a fairy changeling in 1895. She’s sometimes called ‘the last witch burned in Ireland’.

The title of the poem comes from a line spoken by Iachimo in Shakespeare’s Cymbeline. He emerges from the trunk under Imogen’s bed while she is asleep to record ‘some natural notes about her body’, specifically the mole on her breast. He uses this information to convince Posthumus that he has seduced his wife-to-be.

Coincidentally, Bridget also had a trunk under her bed in her home in Ballyvadlea.

So, I reimagine the Imogen as Bridget and Iachimo as the two male physicians who examined Bridget’s body. Instead of Imogen asleep, we find Bridget dead.

A painting of Imogen by Wilhelm Ferdinand Souchon
A painting of Imogen by Wilhelm Ferdinand Souchon

‘Some Natural Notes About Her Body’ is actually a collage/found poem based on the information provided by the physicians who examined Bridget’s body. Phrases from the report include: ‘organs protruding through the burned apertures’ and ‘we found no great marks of violence.’

Both of these phrases appear in my poem. I use the latter phrase with the utmost irony. If organs protrude from holes in the body, how can one claim there are ‘no great marks of violence’?

This demonstrates how physicians participated in the same patriarchal system that led to Bridget’s murder. When Bridget was bed-bound and ill in the last weeks of her life, the men in her family failed to understand her suffering, and thus killed her. The same can be said of these physicians, who failed to understand Bridget’s suffering – both from her illness and her murder – after her death.

You can find the full report from the physicians as well as much more about Bridget’s life and death from Angela Bourke’s The Burning of Bridget Cleary, an excellent book I highly recommend. I decided only to extract the report in this blog post due to its graphic nature as well as the recent events in the UK. On March 3rd, 2021, Sarah Everard was murdered in South London by a Metropolitan Police officer.

Bridget Cleary was also murdered in the same month – on March 15th – 126 years ago.

I know this hasn’t been the most uplifting introduction to the Behind the Poem blog post series. But you can find some more uplifting poems about Bridget Cleary published online with The Honest Ulsterman and Blackbox Manifold. And even more have been published in print with Abridged and Poetry Birmingham Literary Journal.

Some of the poems on Blackbox Manifold are written in Bridget Cleary’s voice. I imagine Bridget as a badass homemaker and feminist in ‘The Engine of My Thoughts’:

‘I have some washing if I had the hands.

If I had the hands, I would rather be dancing.’

Bridget was also a woman who loved deeply and powerfully, caring for her ill mother. In ‘I Must Be Thy Lady’, Bridget is up all night:

‘A dog howls at the offstage moon and all my mother comes into mine eyes.’

A green literary journal with flowers on it held up against actual flowers in a front garden
Issue #11 of Banshee

If you liked this blog post, maybe I will go back and do Behind the Poem posts for some of my poems that were published before I started my blog!

Until next time, remember to order issue #11 from Banshee Press!

Sending love an ocean away!


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