Incantations from the snow globe

I’m not living in a snow globe exactly–the precipitation in Virginia this April is rain and petals–but I came down with Covid a week ago so I have definitely been living behind glass. It wasn’t a severe case, and in fact I first mistook it for a sinus infection because the most unpleasant symptom was pain in my face, head, and ears, the kind that requires you to “sleep” sitting up. Even since the initial low fever passed, though, the week has had a fever-dream quality. I spent most of it tangled in bedsheets, sometimes grading or trying to process an egregious amount of email, but often plowing through fat novels, all of which seemed partly good and partly wrong, shaped by choices that bothered me aesthetically AND ethically.

Intensifying the walled-off, world-askew feeling: I’ve long been looking forward to attending the New Orleans Poetry Festival this weekend. Chris was going to come with me, since it’s at the beginning of our spring break, and I’d booked a sweet one-bedroom cabin near Atchafalaya Wildlife Refuge for a couple of nights after. Obviously I had to cancel it all, but my addled Covid brain kept looking for workarounds: Saturday symptoms, by CDC rules, means your isolation ends Thursday night, followed by 5 more days of masking, right? So if I recovered fast and was testing negative by Thursday, I could fly out on Friday as long as I kept a good mask on? Well, technically, but not ethically (or aesthetically, maybe–I do have a wild-haired hermit thing going on). I came to my senses, all of which I’ve retained so far, and I’m continuing the snow-globe life, although I just took my first short walk. Slow steps for a body that’s mostly better but still tired. After all, the four-week sprint of our triple-time May term is just ahead. With 9 contact hours per week for a 3-credit class, it takes no prisoners.

Revised spring break plans: read some new poetry books. Plan a little outing next weekend to celebrate signing my Tupelo Press contract yesterday for Mycocosmic (all good, although I was interested to see a clause about collaborating with them on book promotion–nothing I don’t do already, I’d just never seen that before). Get my head together for the last big push of the academic year. In the middle of it, we’ll be driving up to Haverford College for our son’s graduation as a math major and computer science minor. He just turned in his honors thesis and accepted a decently-funded spot in the math PhD program at CUNY, so I guess we’ll take a couple of weekend breaks in Manhattan next year! Something else to celebrate, for sure.

In the meantime, here are the prompts from each of my co-panelists, who are right now doing our Uncanny Activisms panel at NOPF without me. I hope to attend some other year, maybe with Mycocosmic in hand.

from Lesley Wheeler, author of The State She’s In:

Think about a change you’d like to make or help occur—it can be anything from a secret personal resolution to a cause that would affect many people, but the change should start with you. Consider how the change would feel in your body with attention to all five senses. Then write a poem in the future tense describing the change, step by step. The first word should be “let,” “please,” “may,” or some other word of petition, and if you get stuck, repeat that word. Give yourself permission to get weird; sometimes seemingly irrational associations are gifts.

from Cynthia Hogue, author of instead, it is dark:

This exercise sends you on an imaginary journey, which can be to a real or imagined/ unknown place that you discover as you write. The exercise asks you to imagine seeking something or someone. It is part of your charge to find out where and how, and what you need to complete the poem. Begin with a predicament: “You” might be lost, or looking for something, or someone, or “you” feel propelled into a quest against “your” will. The landscape may grow strange, as if you feel you should recognize the place but don’t. In a poem like this, there will be an element of surprise. The outcome will be unpredictable, but something should present itself to you as you write in the form of a curse, blessing, spell or prayer. Let whatever it is well up organically from your material. You won’t know what until you write the poem, and it might astonish you. Allow the language and its sounds, all you need to write the poem, to tell you where the poem needs to go.

“Language rooted in earth – like plants – / when sounded opens the mind’s portals.” — from “Negative” in instead, it is dark by Cynthia Hogue (Red Hen Press, 2023)

from Pamela Uschuk, author of Refugee:

Cast a spell to address a social issue or problem: Write a relatively short poem, 50 lines or under, which is a blessing or a curse or a prayer in the form incantation (a spell to exhort something). Incantations often contain catalogues or lists of metaphors, items, or exhortations as in Joy Harjo’s “I Give You Back,” which is a spell to get rid of fear. In her case, the poem is an exorcism to heal historical, cultural, as well as personal fear. My poem, “Prayer Against Extinction,” is an exhortation to protect endangered species. The entire poem uses the catalogue for emphasis. Incantations also employ repetends or repetition of lines for emphasis. Use both, if possible.  Begin your poem with a metaphor and end your poem with that metaphor changed in some way. Use your senses! Don’t forget smell, taste, touch, sound as well as sight. Both the example poems are written in free verse.  Yours can be a free verse poem, a prose poem or a poem in form.

from Andy Young, author of All Night It Is Morning:

Think of what you want to enact or see happen on the personal and/or public level. Include that in the title in some way. (Remember you can do the title last). Write your spell as a series of directions to a second person. Use the imperative voice: “Do this, do that” or “you will…” Perhaps speak to someone being led through the change that is requested. If you’d like, repeat a phrase throughout such as “You will,” “Let,” or “May you…” Incorporate all four directions/elements if you can. Use all five senses.

3 responses to “Incantations from the snow globe”

  1. Hope by now you’re feeling better. I’m generally resistant to intended poetry prompts, but I liked better than most the ideas/ideals of the spells above — particularly yours because it was less directive than many prompts I’ve seen.


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