Poet pays precise homage to the Northwest victims of Ted Bundy

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJune 24, 2012 

The title of Caitlin Thomson's chapbook sounds better suited to the crime section of a bookstore than the poetry section.

"Victims of Ted Bundy: Washington State and Oregon," offers 13 poems, and an excerpt from Bundy's jailhouse confessions.

The poems are short, but with what one reviewer described as their "sparse elegance," they linger long in the memory, and go a long way toward achieving Thomson's goal of rescuing the humanity of the slain women from the heap of books and articles written about their serial killer.

"My ultimate hope is that people will learn the women's names," said Thomson, who recently moved to Bellingham from New York. "I was really interested in the women. I was not interested in him at all."

Born in Tacoma, Thomson was only 3 years old when Bundy was executed in Florida in 1989. Bundy confessed to 30 homicides, including nine in Washington and Oregon, but the true total could be much higher.

Thomson grew up in Toronto, where Bundy's rampage didn't linger in the headlines. But after she graduated from college in Toronto and moved to Seattle, people started mentioning Bundy's name when they advised her to exercise caution while attending classes at the University of Washington. Then she learned that an uncle had known Georgeann Hawkins, a UW student slain by Bundy.

So when Thomson moved to New York in 2008 to study poetry at Sarah Lawrence College, her thoughts returned to Bundy's victims when she took a class on research and creative writing. She began researching the victims for a five-poem assignment.

Thomson ultimately wrote about 50 poems about the victims. To ground her poems in hard fact, she studied police reports, reviewed transcripts of interviews, read articles and books about Bundy, and traveled to Florida and Washington to visit victims' homes and abduction sites.

Thomson is circulating the full set of poems to publishers. Last year, an Atlanta publisher issued her chapbook about the Northwest victims.

Thomson chose not to interview Bundy authors or victims' relatives, so some victims wouldn't receive more attention than others. Equally important, Thomson wanted to convey the idea that people, even those close to the victims, can't fully know the slain women, because their lives, and their futures, were cut short.

"We can't know their thoughts," she said. "Bundy denied us the option to ever get to know those women."

There's no explicit mayhem in the poems, because that was Bundy's doing, not the victims'. Instead, the poems present the women going about their everyday lives shortly before their encounter with evil.

Other than in the chapbook's title, Bundy's name appears only once, in a poem based on his confessions. Of course his presence hovers throughout the book, a nearly unnamed force waiting to end the lives of women who deserve more than a few lines in a story and a name soon forgotten.

"This book is about the names that we should know," Thomson said.

Here is one of the poems in the chapbook: GEORGEANN HAWKINS; JUNE 11TH, 1974

Eighteen, a former Daffodil

Princess, last seen without her contacts in.

For her, college meant good grades,

sororities, tanning, and parties.

Around 1 AM,

she left her boyfriend's

along a well lit alley,

to study for an exam.

One friend spoke to her,

many observed her

in the pools of light

she stuck to in her walk.

Others recalled a tall man

in the alley

a cast on his leg, crutches,

repeatedly dropping

and retrieving a briefcase.


CHAPBOOK AVAILABLE

"Victims of Ted Bundy: Washington State and Oregon" is available for $7 at Village Books and $8 at caitlinthomson.com.

Reach DEAN KAHN at dean.kahn@bellinghamherald.com or call 715-2291.

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