University of Pittsburgh


Incident at the Edge of Bayonet Woods

Written by Crystal Bynum



The poem’s writing begins in a New York City apartment, where the newly married graduate student, far from the rural setting of her youth, blocks out the everyday roar of noisy city life and reimagines what happened, what might have happened. In this suspended space, she uses time, memories, and the inspiration of single words to revisit her father’s unexpected death. She thinks the writing might somehow allow her to continue their conversations together. In the apartment, the poet Paula Bohince creates a prayer of sorts:

I’ve kept our appointment in the barn, board after board of pine hewn by us

She meditates on evocative words. She considers poetic patterns guided by rhythms, striking images, and echoes of the past.

Our saddles, oiled on thick nails, gleam from the walls like 3-D portraits. Something must be wrong or else you would answer—my father in heaven who speaks to me when no one else will speak to me.

There is something wrong, as imagined by the poet in her lyrical book: The “speaker” in the poems struggles to come to terms with her father’s murder in the family’s rural Pennsylvania farmhouse, an event that remains shrouded in mystery. Her childhood, too, is a brew of emotions and events that need to be sorted and reckoned. Again and again, poem by poem, Bohince repeats the creative process of unraveling the past, of deciphering the mystery of the father’s death.

The resulting collection of poems, Incident at the Edge of Bayonet Woods (Sarabande Books), is an elegiac journey into the past and—as the poet Yeats would say—the “terrible beauty” that exists there. The reader is given glimpses into the realities of life in a poor, defeated, and “masculine” land—the muddied world of a daughter who is looking for answers, searching for her own parcel of deliverance.

Others have called this debut collection “remarkable,” “inventive,” and “redemptive.” In describing Bohince’s work, the poet Jane Mead has said: “Hers is a clear-sighted tenderness born of living fully and deeply in our complex, worn, and beautiful world.”

Bohince’s poems have been featured in publications such as Ploughshares, Slate, and The Yale Review. A graduate of the University of Pittsburgh and New York University, Bohince (A&S ’98) has taught at NYU, where she earned an MFA degree, and at Seton Hill University and The New School. From her current home near Pittsburgh, she is writing a second book and focusing on the themes of Appalachia, loneliness, and “brideliness.” Once again, the poet is preparing to walk across a fearsome landscape, to hike into a thicket of memory that is murky and deep, searching for that tight knot of her own truth.