Devil Woman chapbook is a delightfully morbid discovery

Devil Woman

Chapbook, Kate Mildew, 24 pgs, [email protected], $3

Bernadette Devlin McAliskey — the titular Devil Woman — is an Irish civil rights leader, a former politician, and a participant in the Battle of the Bogside , a riot. Kate Mildew’s chapbook takes the time to inform us of all of this, and early on it reads a bit too much like a Wikipedia entry. It’s almost overly factual, with a lot of lists and quotations, and lacks flourish.

However, the mood does turn delight-fully morbid in the middle of this collection, when Mildew uses one of her lists to recount an attempt on McAliskey’s life (she was shot 14 times in front of some of her children): “9. Roisin McAliskey (Witness) / 10. Years old, discovered her mother’s body when she returned from school.”

Much of this only scratches the surface of who McAliskey was, but in Devil Woman’s final poem, Mildew gets to the core of what McAliskey represents: “people don’t know what to do with a woman who does not move through the world producing explanations for her existence.” That sort of insight, had it been applied earlier and throughout, would have considerably enhanced this work.

Its flaws aside, any chapbook that leads to a desire to research its subject matter has done a service. Those not familiar with McAliskey will take pleasure in learning about her — supplementary internet searches recommended — as they take in Mildew’s homage.