Winner of the 2020 Colorado Prize for Poetry
“Night Burial is a graceful and searing debut from a keen lyric intelligence. In poems that move, ecstatically, across the materials of grief song, hagiography, sacred ritual, visual art, and liturgy, Night Burial mourns a lost mother and forges astonishing new language for tracing the contours of monumental sorrow. These are poems that make me weep and rejoice; I weep for the poet’s loss, even as I rejoice to witness these complex, harrowing poems perform their radiant work. Hold this book close, reader; I will, too.”
—Kiki Petrosino, final judge
“Such gratitude for the chance to observe what Kate Bolton Bonnici calls ‘witchspeak,’ wherein she tells us, ‘I deliver a child daily into want.’ Such gratitude to read the lyrics of ‘old stories’ that ‘say burn the skin / of what you’ve become.’ Such gratitude to stand with these poems between Euripides and Homeric hymns and The Midwives Book of 1671, between silence and that space wherein ‘between us every word / is dirt swaddled.’ Every elegy is a bloodline. Every elegy is ‘an ancient loop—someone / looking means someone’s gone. / Something unequal / makes its way forward.’ Bonnici’s beautiful and moving Night Burial is a daybook for daughters, an elegy for mothers, a lyric work where ‘my mother remembers the echo / from her mother’s heels in the hall.’”
“In this poetic account of a daughter’s vigil in the valley of the shadow of death, Kate Bolton Bonnici considers what it means for the living to attend to the dying. To attend by being physically and emotionally present to a loved one in the harrowing transition from life to death. To attend by giving care and comfort. To attend by paying attention, by taking note of each step in the inexorable journey. Reflecting on the ubiquity of death and dying in life, literature, folklore, ritual, and shared memory, Night Burial is an unflinching prayer of devotion.”
“The elegy is, in the hands of a great poet, a paradox: the dead are not dead but alive, here, in these lines. The elegy opens a window, a portal, a pinprick through which the dead might speak. In Night Burial, a mother is alive again because her daughter, Kate Bolton Bonnici, troubled the page with her grief, troubled the page with a poetic intelligence as open and billowing as her heart’s vast loss. This is an astonishing debut by a poet who just wants her mother back, so she did what she could. And what she could do is here in your hands—a rare luminescence, a poetry beyond poetry.”
In Night Burial, Kate Bolton Bonnici mourns her mother’s death from ovarian cancer by tracing the composition, decomposition, and recomposition of the maternal body. Opening with an epigraph from Julia Kristeva’s Stabat Mater, which recognizes the “abyss that opens up between the body and what had been its inside,” Night Burial moves from breastfeeding to laying sod on a grave, weaving together Alabama pine forests, fairy tales, philosophy, classical and Renaissance literatures, church practices, and hospice care. Through centuries-old and newly imagined poetic forms, Night Burial crafts a haunting litany for the dead. These poems ask the essential questions of grief, intertwined with family and place: how do we address the absent beloved and might the poem become its own conjuring whereby the I can once again speak to the you?
Kate Bolton Bonnici grew up in rural Alabama and holds degrees from Harvard, NYU Law, UC Riverside, and UCLA. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Arts & Letters, the Southern Humanities Review, Image, Tupelo Quarterly, and elsewhere. She teaches early modern English literature and creative writing at UCLA.