Rathore’s poem ‘Alison Device (1594-1612)’, named for a Pendle witch, is a beautiful meditation on mortality and desire. Rathore describes Alison carrying ‘a lamb’s heart/ studded with thorns/ in her left-breast pocket’ and shows her watching ‘her cat harry a neighbour’s rabbit/ tearing it’s stomach first, then/ feasting on the organs inside.’ Rathore cleverly invokes the carnivorous brutality of nature, asking the reader why it is of note that a woman might engage with these violent skirmishes. But the killer line comes at the end when the narrator thrills at the danger of underestimating this woman, this witch: ‘Alison Device/ nails the lamb’s heart to my door/ and I will tell you:/ I should be scared.’
Elsewhere when Rathore’s first person narrator invokes the image of ‘permagreen Christmas trees’ that she fears will remind the addressee of ‘the cake-toppers we saw at the wedding planner’s house’ for a wedding that feels doomed or lost, she combines the banal and the magical seamlessly in a voice at once dreamy and precise. There is an occult feminism here, as her characters command power through their relations to objects, and where ‘your girlfriend’s newfound witchcraft’ is treated seriously, and with great respect.
The landscape that Rathore inhabits lies somewhere between the Yorkshire moors that were the backdrop to the writing of these poems, and the numinous space of the internet. Heathcliff is present from the dedication on the title page ‘for the one who calls himself Heathcliff’ and in the poem ‘Wuthering Heights by Kate Bush’, a poem that melds the darkness of the original text ‘the tug of the moors does not tug any more/ this is no place for lovers/ it is a kill place heavy with rotting bodies’ with the everyday disassociativeness of an online Ocado order that is ‘all wrong’ and can’t be sent back. The haunted nature of technology, the atomisation of late capitalism are coded as Gothic and sinister.
A later poem ‘Heathcliff’ returns to these themes, ‘It’s going to rain. It’s not going to rain/ It’s going to flicker the landing light switch/ I’m going to take off my dress’ is an example of everyday witchcraft, where the speaker’s tiny gestures (thinking about rain, removing her dress) create seismic changes in the world where the electricity flickers, the weather changes, a crow lands on her shoulder. This collection opens up an imaginary for occult transformation, for feminist thought, and in so doing it recasts the misogynistic history of the witch.