Robert Eric Shoemaker

Magical Poetics

Write, or die

H.D. and the image-imagined self

H.D. (Hilda Doolittle) in a c.1921 postcard inscribed to Marianne Moore. Courtesy of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University. Public domain.

but She draws the veil aside,

unbinds my eyes,
write, write or die.­

— H.D., “Red Rose and a Beggar,” Hermetic Definition (7)

Articulate / Inarticulability

Part 2

Renée Stout, ‘The Rootworker’s Table,’ 2011, Speed Art Museum, Louisville. Photo by Eric Shoemaker.

Mary Douglas reminds us that sorcery and witchcraft, which she identifies as “pollution powers” (not toxins, but powers viewed systemically as problematic because of their transgressive nature) occur “where the lines of structure, cosmic or social, are clearly defined” (136). Queerness, as a construct, is made possible by the not-queer. The bipolar spectrum of sexuality and gender — man and woman — recognized for centuries by mainstream, white hegemony has made possible an articulation of the interstices between.

Queer / Inarticulability

Part 1

Mithras and the Bull: fresco from the mithraeum at Marino, Italy (third century). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

I need to get better and I’m out of ideas. I arrange the candles, and I pray.
— Elissa Washuta, “White Magic” (12)

I’ve been thinking about why we need magic.

Instress, part 3

I am/immortal diamond

Portraits of Lord Byron, Alfred Tennyson, Walter Scott, and Percy Bysshe Shelley. English Romantic Shelley is, in many ways historical and poetics-centered, out of place among this crew, including among them a more serious interest in the occult’s manifestation in poetry.

“Poetry … transmutes all that it touches,” wrote Percy Bysse Shelley in “A Defence of Poetry” (698). In 2022, when I’m grasping for really any concrete manner of hoping to influence the courses of destruction human capitalism/patriarchy/genocide has put the world on, I am, maybe paradoxically, drawn to poetic treatises like Shelley’s. He really thought, or at least said, that poetry can create change. We all probably know that he called poets the “unacknowledged legislators of the world” (as if we want to be related to politicians), but he also said that poetry is the “most unfailing herald, companion and follower … to work a beneficial change in opinion or institution,” that poets “are the hierophants of an unapprehended inspiration,” mirrors of the world that is or could be (700–701). Shelley gives me a version of poetry that effects, poetry that does work and does magic.

Instress, part 2

Contagion as metaphor

“The Enamored Mage: Translation #6” a portrait of Robert Duncan by Jess, 1965. Courtesy of The M.H. de Young Memorial Museum, San Francisco (

Language magic, language power, is in the balance of extremes. It’s in the Bardo. This, I would say, partly explains the Romantic interest in transgressing extreme boundaries through sublime experiences. The sublime in poetry is manifested as a description of an experience that involves returning, the pendulum swinging back to Earth from Heaven (or … wherever). Without the return, there is no sublimation, no matter-making (meaning-making, perhaps) from the transcendence. The visionary goes beyond the graspable, the namable, and returns without words. Words fail me.