Conjure: A Book of Spells – Peter Dube (Rebel Satori Press)

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Nobody writes grimoires anymore. I guess there’s really no call for them what with technological advances and everything. Google, Microsoft, Apple, and social media have taken all the creativity out of taking revenge, raising spirits, and mastering and summoning. Still, nothing beats the old ways. Call me a purist if you like, but it’s hard to beat a book of spells hand-inscribed on vellum and bound in something exotic, like human skin. Now there’s a book you can sink your teeth into. Failing that, we have Rebel Satori’s resident mad genius, Peter Dube, and his take on grimoires, Conjure: A Book of Spells.

If I’m being honest–and I’m rarely anything but–I was a bit intimidated by forty-plus prose poems with titles like: “To Make Ready a Consecrating Fire,” “To Become Invisible,” and “To Strike Obstacles From Your Path and Unlock Doors.” And to be fair, first starting these was like feeling my way over dark red velvet curtains, unable to find an opening. With “To Undo an Error Past,” however, the curtains parted, and I was able to see the structure they had hidden.  From then on, my experience was nothing but rewarding.

There is, to be sure, a formula for writing these–begin with an action, make certain the ingredients of the spell are symbolic, include numbers and directions, speak in terms of absolutes, and ensure that the psychic bond with the symbolic not be broken. If this sounds deep and obscure…well, it is. It’s supposed to be. Conjurations are not for those disinclined to follow symbolic actions or words. But Dube invests these spells with such beauty and economy of language that once you reach the root of one of the poems, you’re both proud of the attempt and pleased with the result. And the next one becomes easier to fathom, and the next and the next and the next until you’re riding a wave of eloquent metaphor that doesn’t stop until you’re washed back up on the shore of reality, breathless from what you’ve learned.

Don’t want to work that hard? More’s the pity, because you will miss a truly unique poetic experience. A prime example is “To Calm a Storm,” which begins:

“Make a moment. Build a place. Prepare a glass of wine. Still, undisturbed, clean and uncrowded, enjoy it; stop thinking, even briefly. Take a sheet of paper in your hand. Appreciate it; this is key. Here is the place your thought may stop: right angled, resolute, and white; no mark upon it, no stain, no word, no story yet unfolded before crowds…”  The spell requires you take this paper and draw upon it the faces of those seen in dreams. Then, “Take one page corner and fold it in upon the other, bend one edge up and turn the page again. Shape it carefully. At length, complete a tiny, paper ship which you set down; a vessel burdened with your faces, your images, your life. All rich with promised freedom, adrift in the tempestuous world. Let it course upon the tabletop beneath your eye, and drain your cup and fondly, finally, turn your emptied glass upon that vessel and depart. Captured, covered, trapped and sealed from everything, you turn your back and leave the ship of tumult: lovely and becalmed for now.”

Elegant and stately, Dube’s prose poems are truly things of beauty. But are they queer enough for inclusion on this blog? I think they are, perhaps more than Dube believes. Gay men and women have, for centuries, been looked upon as different and otherwordly–especially important to tribal rites because we have the ability to walk between the realms of reality and the spirit worlds. We have been perceived as having access to knowledge arcane enough to be set down in grimoires. Certainly, that knowledge is not ours alone, but our very “otherness” enables us to understand and interpret it. And in order to survive in the real world, we have, in the past, shrouded ourselves in mystery and symbolic ritual. These spells are important to both our history and our world vision, and in some ways carry the very essence of our duality. Queer enough? Yes, I think so. And I hope you do as well.

But talking about these wonderful pieces is no substitute for reading them. Start with a couple and be persistent. Soon, they will reveal themselves to you and their richness will fill your senses with heady magic.

So say I.

©  2013  Jerry L. Wheeler

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