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ISBN: 978-1-62557-824-2
Reviews & Media Review in SOLSTICE
Categories Poetry

The Shape of the Keyhole

Publication Date: November 2020


In 1650, in Massachusetts, a woman was falsely accused of killing her friend’s child. She was immediately tried and soon hanged. The Shape of the Keyhole examines a community’s fear-driven silence and envisions the innocent woman’s days as she awaits her execution.


This stunning book-length poem creates, from a brief account in colonial American history, an expansive collage of “dislodged sentiment, fragmented scenes, churned-up voices.” Denise Bergman renders the arrest, trial, and execution of a falsely accused woman in cinematic slow motion and spare lyrical language, heightened by recurrent metaphor and contrapuntal wordplay. A rush of voices speeds up the motion before the final scene, inviting questions of guilt and culpability that are disturbingly relevant to the injustices of our own time. 
—Martha Collins

Denise Bergman’s compelling new collection, The Shape of the Keyhole, gives testimony to prejudices, false rumors, mutable scraps of damning evidence that wrongly condemn a woman to die by hanging. Here there is no restorative justice, only questions that singe through to a hushed past: “Why does no one ask why//she killed a child/would want to kill/ a child/that child//could she not stop herself.” In a style reminiscent of cubism and Stein, Bergman’s fractured, repetitive language and succinct imagery recreate a sequence of voicings that imprint indelibly on the consciousness of the reader where “Silence snatches the best view of the finish line.” The Shape of the Keyhole shines a clarifying light into the dark, unsparing nature of humanity. 
—Dzvinia Orlowsky

About the Author

© Sarah Boyer

Denise Bergman

Denise Bergman is the author of four other books of poetry. Three Hands None (Black Lawrence Press, 2019) delves into the night forty years ago when the author was attacked in her bed by a stranger. A Woman in Pieces Crossed a Sea centers on the making and endurance of “symbol” in the Statue of Liberty. The Telling is a book-length poem generated by a relative's one-sentence secret about her escape as a refugee. Seeing Annie Sullivan is based on the early life of Helen Keller’s teacher.

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