Instress, part 1

The secrets of clouds

Credit: Dmitry Makeev, via Wikimedia Commons

Some poems declare their interest in magic openly through formal choices. Some poems are constructed as and/or “after” ancient or occult spells and take the form of a spell, which has some generally predictable structures. If we go from the ancient spells exemplified in Joshua Trachtenberg’s work, we’ll find these components: appeal, historiolae (historical or mythological precedents/correlates of the situation at hand), invocation, enunciation of names, request.

Spelling the amulet, the shape, the poem

CA Conrad's 'Amanda Paradise' and Jewish ritual bowls

SATOR square
Sator square carved into a painted section of wall plaster, 2nd century CE, Roman, Corinium Museum, Cirencester.

Magic, bottom line, involves intention and effect. Maybe in that order. “The intentional use of language or of gesture for a desired effect” is a pretty basic definition of communication, too, but maybe I mean that communication is magic. As the contentious Crowley quote gives us in this commentary’s introductory text, magic is aligned with the practice (science or art) of causing an effect aligned with intention. Communication is a default action of humans, if we believe Chomsky, so we might as well imagine, for now, that magic is a practice of intention to create effect; in this case, the practice of language. Crafting poetry is a language practice, and the poem is one location where we may see language magic performed.

By performance, I mean the action of language or of ritual. Language is abstract, necessarily, and really becomes effective when used in speech or in writing. Externalized, language as speech or writing becomes an act. Writing must happen or there is no text.

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