On the Intersection of Art and Magical Vocabulary


I think that there’s a lot to be said about the importance of art to magic. Art can be a picture in a museum that inspires your ritual; it can be a piece of music that you use to do magic; it can be the architecture of a building or a garden that changes consciousness. It can be the dance that raises energy for the magic.

And it can be poetry. For me, it is very often poetry.

Having a large vocabulary is an advantage in any field; educators recognize it as an advantage to further educational progress, and it is certainly an advantage in doing magic and crafting ritual, although in those cases the vocabulary goes beyond the collection of words available to one’s left brain and includes art.

I was thinking about all of these points when I read Christopher Hennessy‘s wonderful interview of Aaron Shurin. I’ve long loved Shurin’s poetry, especially for its emphasis on the manifest world, and have long found some of it difficult to access. Hennessy does a good job of making it more accessible to me because his questions are so obviously based upon his large and deep vocabulary of Shurin’s work.

Hennessy says:

In an essay recalling his high school production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shurin writes about discovering his future self in the poetic language of the play and the character of “fairy” Puck. He wore “the mask of a mythic structure that would prove to be my natural face,” and spoke “the masque of a mythic structure of language whose amped sonorities and playfulness would prove to be my natural voice.” That poetry and identity could be so intertwined thrilled me.

And, Hennessy continues:

Sometimes I read a line of yours, and it seems like it’s meant to show how language can be incantation, how it doesn’t need a fixed “meaning” to cast a spell over us: “So a letter as always breeches [sic] the focus of gauze, in which a parade of marionettes lilts in beating the time of regatta is a festoon in a brass pot.” How do you feel about the characterization of your work as incantatory?

Shurin replies that:

For me, sound haunts language even when it’s silent text, and “incantation” is sound raised to the level of meaning. Not “fixed” meaning, as you say, but something nevertheless apprehended, felt. I think my work may be essentially sonorous. If I were going to get down to brass tacks, I would say, for me, that’s poetry’s defining element, the power that engages me most complexly. I mean the full range of prosodic values: [Robert] Duncan’s idea of “the tone leading of vowels,” or the rise and fall of syllables, or measure, repetition, rhythm — all of what I call the countersemantic aspects of poetry. Of course, in the end, there are no countersemantic aspects; that’s the point. They all add to the semantic complexity of the poem. The experience you call incantatory or casting a spell is fundamental to my work. It’s sound in conversation with fixed meaning, and that tension is dynamic. It can bring you to non-quotidian attention, into another order of meaning, the way mantras or chants or even songs do. And for sure I read my poems aloud, and they’re not complete until I’ve understood them through my body.blockquote>

That’s the beauty part: “I read my poems aloud, and they’re not complete until I’ve understood them through my body.”

That’s what I mean about the connection between an artistic vocabulary and art. It’s how art becomes important to the act of magic.

Here’s Shurin writing about his rod of power, with all of its double entendres intact. (I’d love to know exactly how deep his magical vocabulary goes.)

Cool Dust

A heave of afternoon light pulls a tulip from the turf, a bower for locusts, a cup of shells. The farmhouse tilts, a bent shadow on wheels. In cedar rooms a family is molded, silent, wrapped in the wire of steel eyes and stopped voice, romantic ash. This is not my house, my ghost, my uninvited guest, my lost labor of love, my thicket or grease, my JPEG gessoed or rawhide suit. The yellow light throbs like an internal organ — soft body of an overture to insect sounds — sapling of a new world — whose future awaits me at the tilting window of my own domestic hut. Perhaps this is my mesh of hours, my muscular ache, my guardian sash, twist of rope carved around an old maple trunk, my rod of power red with anticipatory friction at the edge of an emerging set of planetary rings. Stained ochre by the air I pitch forward, a vanilla-scented pear that floats or falls. In the rattan chair on the front porch by the blistered boards of the front door a figure of tar watches. Cool dust sparkles and settles. Shadows have made me visible. An empty wagon flares on the hillside.

More poems here.

Picture found here.

One response to “On the Intersection of Art and Magical Vocabulary

  1. “Sometimes I read a line of yours, and it seems like it’s meant to show how language can be incantation, how it doesn’t need a fixed “meaning” to cast a spell over us. . . .”

    I remember having read somewhere (can’t dig out the source right now) that Tolkien could move people to tears by reading from Beowulf, even if his audience didn’t understand Old English.

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