Spells: 21st Century Occult Poetry by Abi Whitaker

By Abi Whitaker

In this Event piece, Abi Whitaker shares with us on a deeply personal retrospective of last week’s event for the launch of Spells: 21st Century Occult Poetry , a poetry anthology edited by Rebecca Tamás and Sarah Shin.

“Spell-poems take us into a realm where words can influence the universe”

An event on female power, witchcraft and independent publishing sounded like an event curated personally for me and so of course I couldn’t miss out on Sarah Shin and Rebecca Tamás in conversation about their new poetry collection Spells. The talk began with readings of a selection of poems found within the collection including Come to Dust by Ursula K. Le Guin, For Those Who Mispronounce My Name by Kayo Chingonyi and, one of my personal favourites, Mystics of YouTube by Sophie Robinson. What followed was an hour of discussing the relationship between the demonization of witchcraft and the shaming around all things feminine, as well as an exploration of our current world climate and an insight into the world of publishing.

When, five minutes in, both speakers had named Audre Lorde as one of their biggest inspirations, I knew I had come to the right place. Sarah Shin continued on to name other women she had taken inspiration from, including her grandmother. She then spoke on the importance of making space for marginalised voices and projects that represent them (such as this anthology) in a time of political pressure, a rise in far-right politics, misogyny and mental health crisis. Rebecca expanded on this idea of giving a voice to the marginalised and oppressed by pointing out that, as it happens, there are no cisgender, straight, white, male poets within their collection. She emphasised the fact that this was not on purpose, it is just “easy to find diverse poets if you diversify what you’re looking for” and widen your ideas of what poetry and being a poet is.

Both women expressed that they were interested in what the occult makes possible for language and how deeply connected poetry and magic are in that they are both difficult to define. Rebecca spoke about how she considers poetry a marginalised art form due to its struggle to make it into the mainstream and its lack of success if compared to the novel. The editors branded this poetry collection a political project and, more widely, Sarah Shin calls Ignota Press a “project of awakening”. It was really interesting to hear about a new representation of witches as empowered and progressive as opposed to the negative narrative we are often fed of witches being old, scary, evil women. “Art should be transformative” says Sarah, and that’s exactly what these poems are.

Along with discussing the Spells collection, Sarah and Rebecca talked us through the ins and outs of independent publishing. Their collection was published by the new publishing house Ignota Press. Ignota, Sarah Shin explains, meaning ‘unknown’. Ignota Press seems very much to be a publisher aiming to shift the mainstream, to reproduce and rethink culture – an idea that is mirrored within the themes of the poetry found in Spells. Sarah Shin explained that independent publishing offers an opportunity to be more creative, that independent publishers often practise intuitive publishing as Ignota truly believed in Spells, supporting and furthering their passion for the occult.

I have always loved poetry and that is what brought me to the talk, but I came away from this event with a copy of Spells and a newfound curiosity about all things surrounding the occult. To quote the blurb of Spells, “these poems unmake the world around them so that it might be remade anew” and they have certainly given me a few ideas on how I might view things differently. One thing it did for sure was make me much more passionate about independent publishing and supporting new projects. I strongly recommend buying a copy of Spells or at least looking into Ignota Press and their upcoming projects.

“Spells are poems; poetry is spelling”

Read more about spells on Ignota’s website here