A Bewitching Assignment

From “Witches and Wizards” Seminar for Freshmen to “American Literature” with Professor Armbruster

When you grow up in New England you have to learn about the Salem Witch Trials. I lived in Wethersfield, Connecticut, where there is a history of witch trials and I was fascinated to learn more about this period of history. When I had to choose a freshman seminar I was drawn to Professor Armbruster’s “Literary Witches and Wizards” course. The course turned out to be perfect because it blended classical literature and history such as reading books like Macbeth and The Crucible and reading current events essays and news articles such as those found in the New York Times and the Huffington Post. In class we would talk about the past, but we would also discuss how the term “witch” is used today, particularly since the election of 2016.

I’m a Witch! What about you?
Are you- A witch- as well?
Then we should join forces!
Don’t confess! We would be shamed- understand!

Very dull- to be- Normal!
Very common- like a Thread-
To stitch a record- the sharp needle-
With all our faults!

A poem inspired by Emily Dickinson’s “I’m Nobody! Who are you?” by Chianna Calafiore

Women are knocked down for trying to have the confidence to rise above social norms and expectations. We might think the Salem Witch Trials are over, but the witch hunts will never end. It was also very exciting to get the chance to visit Salem, MA, with some of my fellow classmates. It was a real eye-opener to visit a beautiful place but know that in the same place women suffered for being accused of witchcraft. Nobody will ever truly understand a time in history unless they explore the place where it all happened, which is what we got to do with Professor Armbruster.

Because I enjoyed the classroom environment created by Professor Armbruster, I enrolled in her American Literature survey course the next semester, English 217 (Spring 2018). Early in the semester, we received an assignment to write a poem on any subject we wanted but in the style of Emily Dickinson, the poet we were studying alongside Anne Bradstreet. Dickinson’s poems are unique because she wrote with dashes and used metaphors that hold numerous meanings. I chose her poem “I’m Nobody! Who are you?” because in this poem, Dickinson is telling someone not to publicize themselves in order for the word not to spread.

This poem made me think about how today women are scared of being called and publicized as a witch. But, in another way, contrary to Dickinson, some women like to be referred to as a witch because this makes them feel empowered and different from the rest. That’s what the last stanza of my poem reflects on. What I meant by the words “to stitch a record” is that documents are there forever, so if people see you as a witch in your day, then people in the future will think the same way. I wanted mine to be a poem where the reader would have to sit back, think, and take in the words within each line. I really loved this assignment, and I especially liked the way Professor Armbruster enabled me to connect content from my Seminar for Freshman to content in my American Literature course.

Chianna Calafiore, class of 2021