Black Lawrence Press
November 29, 2018

Welcome back, Denise Bergman!

This month we are celebrating the titles that we’ve acquired during 2018. These manuscripts came to us through our open reading periods. Today we bring you Denise Bergman, author of the poetry collection The Shape of the Keyhole, which will be published in late 2020. This will be Denise’s second title with Black Lawrence Press.

Have a manuscript you think we’d like? During our November Open Reading Period we are looking for poetry (chapbooks and full-length collections), short fiction (again, both chapbooks and full-length collections), novels, novellas, nonfiction (CNF, biography, cultural studies) and translations from German. Also, our Big Moose Prize for the novel is currently open to early bird submissions.

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The Author

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Denise Bergman’s Three Hands None is forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press in March 2019. A Woman in Pieces Crossed a Sea won the Patricia Clark Smith Poetry Prize and was published by West End Press in 2014. The book centers on the making and endurance of “symbol” in the Statue of Liberty; the impetus for the book was the year when the statue sat in 350 pieces in 214 crates on its future island home awaiting reconstruction. The Telling (Cervena Barva, 2014) is a book-length poem generated by a relative’s one-sentence secret: she believed that as a child refugee she had accidentally killed her mother. Seeing Annie Sullivan (poetry, Cedar Hill Books) based on the early life of Annie Sullivan, Helen Keller’s teacher, was translated into Braille and a Talking Book. Denise conceived and edited the anthology of urban poetry City River of Voices (West End Press). Her poetry is widely published, most recently in Poetry, Beloit Poetry Journal, Solstice, Paterson Literary Review, and the Syracuse Cultural Workers Women’s Daybook. The first stanza of her poem “Red,” about a neighborhood near a slaughterhouse, is permanently installed in a public park in Cambridge, Mass. You can learn more at denisebergman.com.

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On writing The Shape of the Keyhole

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In 1650, in the city where I live, a woman was hanged for “bewitching a child to death.” The few words in the historical account give us little information about her: she was, essentially, any woman. This intrigued me, and as I began to flesh out the woman, who deserved a voice and an identity, I couldn’t help but explore the story’s contemporary relevance. I pried open the bewilderingly short seven days between her arrest, “trial,” hanging, and immediate post-hanging acquittal, imagining her shock, loneliness, powerlessness, and the battery of betrayal as she denied her guilt to the end. Fear silencing a community, silence breeding fear..
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Excerpts from The Shape of the Keyhole

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THE KNOCK
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The one in the constable’s robe taps
knuckles on her door
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fingers fisted white around bone,
wrist the knocker hinge
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Taps his knuckles
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She empties the wash bucket,
walks ’round to the front,
sees the back of the man—yes?
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Bucket clanks, rolls to a rock
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stops
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OUTSIDE THE COURTHOUSE
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town awakens with an ear-piercing yawn   church bells    a
mother’s call to supper    wretched starving cats
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husband tilling the winter-hard ground reconsiders walking
towards her
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she says: if you stand behind me you’re next in line
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THE WAIT
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let the end begin the beginning end    done won’t be undone why
wait    she thinks: another day    imagines trudging up the hill
stumbling    fulfilling the teardrop rope stretching the loop
rehearses the goodbye she’ll whisper to herself    to whom else to
no one else    to sparrows hunkering down expecting a storm    to
the woodpecker drilling the branch hungry determined desperate
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time aches for an execution    its prickly heat creeps up her neck
the endless day is too long she thinks    her little life left too short
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NIGHTMARE WON THE RACE
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Nightmare charms all spectators     spectacle spectacular    people
travel days to cheer their boy on    Nightmare sweats a torrent
and spectators wipe its forehead with their sleeves
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Silence snatches the best view of the finishline    hoards the seat
governor’s government seat    Silence fixed the race and bets on
the victor
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Silence augurs its power    a hunched wizard with a long stick
stirring a boiling cauldron rendering fear
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THE HANGING
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Faces beam, string-her-up eyes,
drip-snot noses, chapped grin lips—
hang her high 
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Rope twisted seven times knotted twelve,
length to spare
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A tom squawks in the distance
Hens defy the fence
A man who didn’t come early
took some minutes to wrangle his fowl
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A girl whispers to her cousin, I know her
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The minister hallelujahs, pounds his little book
thud thud, leather to palm
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A woman turns beet red as if choking
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If I were there would I be there
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She straightens her skirt