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Intricate Moves: Poems About Rape

ISBN: 1-887344-02-0
By Joan Swift
Review by: Moira Richards


Intricate Moves is a collection of some two dozen short poems with contextualising prose sections that document the author’s experience of being strangled and raped. The poems are written over a period of as many years and include an account of a second trial that was held after Joan Swift’s rapist raped and murdered another woman some years after attacking her. The volume begins with Swift’s initial emotional responses to the assault on her, takes us through a range of inner reflections during the two legal trials that the man stood, to some of her thoughts on looking back after the passage of so much (yet never enough) time.

It took me some while to gather enough bravery to sit down and engage with Swift’s poems. Her poetry touches me to the quick and I felt as if I were sitting in the same room as this survivor, listening to her pain, her fear, her helplessness, her rage. Joan Swift’s poetry shows the complex range of emotions that a survivor of women abuse can experience and also, her secondary abuse at the hands of the judicial system:

The defence attorney asks wasn’t
     my husband out of town that day
      and didn’t I expect this caller?

Didn’t I actually ask him in,

the man that I say strangled and then raped me?

(p. 11, Preliminary Hearing)


I also found it particularly moving to read her imagined narrations of the various people embroiled in the murder trial. Poems written from the points of view of the coroner or of the dead victim herself, that convey the brutality and horror of her death. Poems exploring the feelings of the accused’s sister and mother stand in stark contrast next to one of those from the victim’s husband:-

The executioner always wears a hood.
Blood spurts where his testicles slice off.
Behind the eyeslits it is always me.

(p. 26, Her Husband, to Himself)

This collection goes beyond the experience of one survivor’s account of a crime. It explores with skill and empathy, the ways in which so many people’s lives are touched by one person’s crime. The poet is generous enough to acknowledge the perpetrator as a multi-faceted person in his own right too.

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