Robert Eric Shoemaker

Magical Poetics

Know Future

Queer mythopoesis, or, How Eliot's "Waste Land" failed us

A man stands in a field of yellow grasses under a blue sky, trees framing him.
Robert Eric Shoemaker; photo credit Olivia Welsh.

This post serves as a coda to my Jacket2 blog series on magical poetics by engaging with my own writing and magical practice.

At this year’s Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture, which is a one-hundred-year-old occult gem of magical poets and thinkers, renowned critic Stephanie Burt asked if poetry has a future. By this she meant, "can poetry imagine a future?" mostly leaning into a sci-fi future-imagining for queer folks, as well as everyone else.


Spelling the ritual, urgency, and the future lineage

Line-drawn veve featuring a heart shape for Maman Brigitte, a Vodoun loa.
The veve of Maman Brigitte, Vodoun loa. Veves are spiritual and magical symbols used for bringing the energy and presence of loa.

As we start to practice magical poetics and create real effects in our poems, we also begin to think about the consequences. The ethics of magic is at the very core of historical perceptions, definitions, and discussions of magic itself.

Give me aliens!

Trance and memory practice

Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (1831–1891), founder of Theosophy and leading spiritualist, with James Morgan Pryse and George Robert Stow Mead in London, 1890. Blavatsky inspired poets including W. B. Yeats with her occult beliefs and practices, including mediumship. Public domain.

Nearing the end of the run of these blog posts, I’ve wanted to tie my concepts together, especially into practice. I can’t get everything to align, but I want to at least briefly explore what it means to enact or to practice a magical poetics. Practices of magic do not necessarily yield magical poetry, so how does one make that leap to text? I am especially interested in crafting poems that are not just reflections of or imitations of practice but are themselves practices of magic. How does one pull these threads together into a web one writes with? Give me a prompt or procedure!

The first obvious book that bridges this gap for me is Kristin Prevallet’s Trance Poetics, which coaches the writer using practices of trance and automaticity to approach mythopoetic and extra-personal poetic relationships like those of H.D., Yeats, and Merrill. Trance is a state of being and writing, a “state of absorption” that, relaxed into vision, can lead to epiphany (hear ecstasy and sublime) (9, 27).

Wobble the gyre

Symbolist magic

An illustration of W.B. Yeats’s “gyre” as described in “A Vision.” Published in “A Brief Approach to W.B. Yeats’ Lunar System.”

Like a molecule when energy infuses it

Sublimate the symbol, the image

Reach through the punctum

Move from ground state to excited state and back again

Terribly human

'Helen in Egypt,' over-mind, and other hermetic definitions

‘Ecstasy of Saint Teresa,’ 1645–1652, by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Photo credit Joaquim Alves Gaspar, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The ability to see the self and one’s work in communion with one’s poetic ancestors is different from merely employing allusion or reference in one’s writing. Modernists like T. S. Eliot or H.D.’s friend/lover/mentor Ezra Pound made the past new by setting themselves among the dead and interpreting their work as such, to paraphrase Eliot’s essay “Tradition and the Individual Talent.” In works like Eliot’s The Waste Land, much of this deadness is referential. H.D.