As a writer, it’s probably no surprise that I love reading poetry.
But not all poetry. My favorites are the kinds where words are distilled down to their essence, placed sparingly and allowed to shine out like little stars. In fact, the poems that sing to me are a lot like spells – incantations – where every word is exactly chosen for its precision, meaning, and intent.
So I was pretty excited to hear about the debut release from the publishing house Ignota Books, entitled “Spells: 21st Century Occult Poetry”. A collection of 36 poems from contemporary writers, Spells is an exploration of the hidden, the mystical and the magic that ripples through the world around us. The thread of connection between poetry and spells is here in plain sight. What witches have always known – that words contain a power of their own – is described in detail, inside the pages of Spells, carefully curated by editors Sarah Shin and Rebecca Tamas.
“Spells are poems; poetry is spelling. Spell-poems are vehicles of change that take us beyond the borders of the rational into a place where the right words can influence the universe.”
– They write in the book’s introduction. Calling for writers from “the four corners and the six directions”, Shin and Tamas aimed to create with this book, ‘sacred space away from everyday experiences of violence and harassment’. Not an escape, writes So Mayer in the introduction, but ‘a space for healing and liberation’.
The poems range from the deadpan, almost textbook-excerpt factual, to darkly feminist humor, and back again. Daisy Lafarge’s Incantation against Mumsnet is an illegible concoction of web-speak acronyms (and hilarious for it – as anyone who’s browsed this almost uniquely female forum will agree). Reflections on Shame in Sacred Spaced by Kate Duckney grants us a bittersweet gaze into the mind of somebody who’s trying. But who is she trying for?
Most of the poems contained in Spells are long. You won’t be able to digest them in one go. But like all the best poems, their words combine in unexpected ways, they are harsh, real and beautiful all at the same time. So take your time, move slowly and allow the magic to unfurl at its own pace. I promise – much will come from savoring what you find inside the pages of this book.
Here, we have a couple of excerpts from Spells. Take a look, and tell us what you think.
I used to be a witch
I used to light the candles in the hallway and say your name
Say it was what it was supposed to be
Say love me love me I used to say love me
I used to wear a long black coat
And swab my staff at everything
I used to sing and sing and it was for nobody
Except the ghouls who peered at me from under the bed
I used to kill off the dead
Until they were my lovers
I used to pin the legs above the head
Until I could have my way with the dead
I used to take your spirit out and put it in my pocket
And ride a horse that did not exist
I used to go in, with a dark cat
And mix a thousand herbs together
But it was the new year
And the cats, instead of keeping still
Wanting to cry in the morning
I used to cry into the morning
I used to sit alone, I used to be a witch
Then you came along
I used to be only what the nighttime knew
But now you’re the witch, little thing
And on a golden broom, I’ve sent you flying
Through the stars
And the moon
The people will now look at you
And this time
The spell will only be
What Chani Nicholas told me
The morning my mother gave up
on coaxing me out of her vagina,
after nearly two days, consented
to being cut open, I was born in a placement
speaking to difficulty:
“under the sun’s beams”.
I plucked hymns from wading
in the warmth amniotic sea.
And no one was bearing me out
unless my home was sliced in two.
How I see Chani:
Astrologer bursting sun from her bare bones.
Human and emailing to help with a Moon course.
I don’t crush a lot (just a player).
The stars when I emerged:
Close to the sun.
Venus retrograde, in Aries, twelfth house.
I hear from Chani Difficulties. Here: Fallen woman.
Chani knows the term is archaic, gives its history
for mystifying chart, points to femmeness and creative wombs
broken, bust open, diminished. Disrespected, pushed,
Slapped red to know one’s place by muscly hands.
I know Chani, yeah.
Read me like the salvaged medusa of nerves
My body has become.
She speaks of my birth placement as archetype:
Venus conjunct Sun, retrograde heart of second planet –
“In the myth of Inanna, this is when she dies
In the underworld
and is reborn.”
Sometimes the river with its faint whiff of tombs,
hand in its water, laughing back at abled prisons.
Coming into a thirty-third year of survivorship,
counting from when they slit my belly-sky roof
and placed my heart like an offering –
to burn under the Sun’s beams, rippling the empyrean,
befitting an epidermal ceiling.
I’d want to stay.
My orbit of all thing rebirths itself;
Chani tells me how, but I am ready, and already:
Firmament-heavy. Beaming back at the burning gaseous.
Mouth trying to be kind, fingers grasping
from all my house placements, Taurus rising half-dead,
half-scorned, half-electric, the bull a symbol
of my mother’s Minang house, our clan house
back in the Tanah Datar village, its roof shaped as horns.