Saturday, May 4, 2013

Without Puck, part 1: Incantation

There is a case to be made that the fantastical should notbe ignored. Even if modern technological advances have smoothedout the supernatural or religious contours of the human imagination, childrenstill believe there are monsters in the closet.

That’s because there are monsters in the closet. If we wantthere to be.

Cover of "Wonderland" series -- David Mack, artist

An anxiety edging its way to the hegemonic front can be seenin two comic book series. The first is by Mike Carey, called The Unwritten, theother is the ninth season of Joss Whedon's Buffy the Vampire Slayer, in which all magic hasbeen destroyed and locked out of the world. In both comics the creative forces that are connected to the world (in Carey's a giant fish called Leviathan; in Whedon's world, magic) have been somehow severed. It should be noted that in both cases the severing was violent. It requires violence to sever the imagination from the mind. This violent act has left the world without dreams. Suicide rates are up, creativity is down. In the words of Willow (who had her own spectacular five-part comic in which she tries to rectify this problem), Buffy's wiccan sidekick, "no one can hit a note, everyone's auto-tuned."

In Carey and Whedon's world, the link is the incantation. The incantation, the words to create the spell, to create the fiction, to make it physical, to make the link occur. 

There are supernatural causes to these problems, and in these comic book series there can be supernatural solutions. In a way their creations show the reverse of that cultural anxiety: the fact that these two can create a world threatened by the disappearance of creativity is proof the imagination in our culture is far from tapped. But it is nonetheless an anxiety that corresponds to our "end of days" anxiety. Not only will the world be zombified, it already is.

A society we could be paralleling ourselves to (I see this is a grandiose statement, but I'm inclined to make it and hope you are generous to me) is Puritan Salem in 1692. Here, as Marion Starkey wrote in her book "The Devil in Massachusetts," the people of Salem, denying the "natural outlet in Robin Goodfellows and in fiddling and dancing around the maypole," had focused its repressed imaginations into dark accusations of witchcraft to a number of goodwives. One of them, Susanna Martin, had been assumed to have her exploits in witchcraft, and was "something of a Paula Bunyon among witches" to the townsfolk. As early as 1669 she had been accused of witchcraft.

One of the best stories of Susanna Martin was how John Kembal had been harassed by metaphysical dogs while walking home from the fields. Earlier in the day, Kembal had visited Goody Martin with the intention of buying the litter her bitch had just had. When he decided against buying the litter, Susanna "was wroth. [. . .] 'I'll give you puppies enough!" she cried after him. And indeed she did."

That evening Kembal was visited by the apparitions of puppies as "he came out to the road near the meetinghouse." When he tried to kill the first puppy with an ax, it disappeared. Farther along, a "Thing" awaited him, "a larger puppy, black as coal and vicious. It sprang for his throat, his belly . . ." Kembal swung with his ax wildly and it finally disappeared when he called out Jesus' name. 

That's some good incantation. Of course, the pailfuls of beer the kitchen maid brought to Kembal on the field might have created the physical manifestation: so it is unclear who we should thank for the supernatural story: the witch, the farmer, or the beer. It would be best perhaps to put value on all three. As for Goody Martin, who was executed on July 19th, 1692, although it was she who made the incantation, it is unclear whether it was herself proper or Kembal's vague idea of her as "witch" that is to blame for the apparitions. 

The incantation, in poetry, is the bucket that dips into the imaginative well. It is the first light found in a dark room. It lights. The child says "monster," and the clothes in the closet begin to shift. 

Take, for example, a poem by Brenda Hillman from Practical Water (Wesleyan, 2009)

"In The Trance"

A pretty anarchist said to me
It's not that a great love happens
what happened became your great love

Her echo had an ancient glow & so
proved buoyant for my little craft

I left the world & felt the world

The bee loading it gloves with powder
The albatross wanting one thing from the sea

Nothing can wreck our boat said she

& when the water felt the glacier
The future held a present tense
The present held a future without cease

Like Goody Martin incantation to John Kembal's visions, what the anarchist says "proved buoyant for [the speaker's] little craft". The craft is two-fold: a vessel and an art. As a vessel, the incantation releases it into the world. As an art, it is the bucket dipping into the well and the poem is what is drawn. John Kembal's craft was metaphysically his imagination, and physically the beer. 

Every morning should come with an incantation. Each morning we should write in the declarative, and watch out for how the incantation shapes the day. This is about being aware and not: allowing our unconscious mind to do a lot of work so our physical reality can manifest itself into the supernatural. Then we'll write about it. 

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