Three artefacts thought to belong to Anna Magdalena Bach, soprano singer, harpsichordist (and second wife to Johann Sebastian)—ring, thimble and buckle—are mentioned in the Bach archive in Leipzig. Much uncertainty surrounds them; perhaps they have been ‘lost’, or were destroyed by Allied bombing during the Second World War, or perhaps they didn’t even actually belong to her. The uncertain status of the objects is emblematic of how poorly the knowledge about this ‘creative woman of accomplishment’ has been treated over the centuries, overshadowed by interest in, and information about, her eminent spouse. This has allowed authors to project their own views onto Anna Magdalena, in some instances leading to misrepresentations (Talle 2020), and even misappropriation by the Nazis (Yearsley 2019). However, as poetic biographer, it has also given me rich opportunity to imagine into her life.

Anna Magdalena is one of the research subjects about whom I am writing poetic biographies, a project of restitution seeking to redress the omission of creative women of accomplishment from the historical record. This paper looks at the composition process I employed in writing about her thimble (one poem in a sequence), taking a quote from Susan Howe as its starting point which suggests that archival objects are ‘pre-articulate theatres’ (1985), positioning the archival object, even if missing, as a site for unfolding drama.


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