Spectral Evidence: Poems

Books on Tape. Jan. 2024. 2:25 hrs. ISBN 9780593590119. $38. POETRY
Pulitzer Prize winner Pardlo (Digest) explores the early American judicial practice that allowed for “spectral evidence,” testimony in which witnesses described being harmed by malevolent spirits. Pardlo posits that the same fear-based imaginings that convicted the accused in the Salem witch trials are used today to rationalize hate and violence directed toward women, Black and Indigenous peoples, and others who challenge patriarchy and privilege. For Pardlo, police officers’ recorded statements characterizing Black individuals as looking like demons, with expressionless, bulgy eyes, are not much different from those put forth in Salem courtrooms. The poem “Spectral Evidence” opens with chillingly similar wording: “Declares that on Harvest last, the Devil in the shape of a black man / had the most aggressive face / that his eyes were bugging out.” As a narrator, Pardlo offers a varied and engaging delivery, peppered with gentle exclamations and well-rendered snippets of conversations. It is an artifice-free presentation that is tailored to the content and creates the perfect backdrop for Pardlo’s unapologetic, unsparing analysis.
VERDICT An intricate and richly varied collection that reveals new insight with every poem that’s read. Pardlo stuns with this relentless examination of race, prejudice, and fear.
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