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REVIEW :: Spells For Black Wizards by Candace Williams

As we hurtle into a new decade with what feels like unprecedented speed, the time has almost come for us to return to AWP for another literary week teeming with books, readings, panels and offsite jamborees. We're starting to get really excited about our 2020 edition of the AWP I Scream Social reading in San Antonio, but we can't help but reminisce about the good times we had at last year's I Scream bash at Ruby Jewel in Portland, OR with 7 phenomenally inspiring writers. One of those writers was poet, educator, robotics coach, and author of the chapbook Spells For Black Wizards, Candace Williams. According to their website, Candace is a "black queer nerd living a double life" and after meeting them and experiencing the performance of their incredible work, I have to say I'm smitten with this wizard. Their chapbook is likely to sell out of its second printing, so don't sleep on getting your copy of this magical work!   

First published as a poetry map with an index of spells, the first edition of Spells For Black Wizards sold out before the end of the first week of preorders. The second edition was released last year as a traditional perfect-bound chapbook, but there's nothing strictly traditional about these poems; they explore form as though digging through architectural remains, employing the musculature of such forms as sestinas, sonnets, and blank verse with the creative sovereignty of a sorcerer. 

In the beginning of this chapbook, it feels as though these spells are procedural, following the tenets of science's order of operations, with poem titles such as "Principles of Value," "Quanta" and "Theorem." Yet in the heart of these poems, the small moments of the body prevail: human touch, emotion, cadence, and suffering. Somehow, these poems contain both the inquisitive, knowledge-based view of the universe, as well as a deep gaze into the mysteries of that universe, its magic, and the supernatural power of empathy in humankind. 

The effect is that of oscillating in and out of a dream: 

 

Momma said wake up.

 

"Momma Said" begins with this line, running through a litany of Momma said's that flow together like a memory montage, conjuring Momma's voice which wallops hard with lines like:

 

Momma said your math teacher humiliates you on purpose

 

 and lines that soothe like: 

 

Momma said summer is almost here.  

 

From the titular poem, "Spells for Black Wizards":

 

Pick poppies in a summer-lit field
On sight of a blood moon, utter the incantation "I don't see race"
in four dead languages
For a moonrise, your melanin will be imperceptible

 

From these four lines alone, you can see how masterfully Candace can address issues of race, namely, the erasure of blackness and the black experience in America, while also infusing the poem with all of the dreaminess of a spell. The poem is subtly saturated with color, even as the mainstream "colorblind society" is being called out, and hopefully, this particular spell is powerful a hex. This is not poetry that feeds into the mainstream, whitewashed, on-trend witch culture, but is rather a wholly idiosyncratic reclamation of ritual, and what better use of the ancient wellspring of magic than to eradicate bias, prejudice, and racism?

I am not a person of color, and I don't want to speak to feelings or experiences that don't belong to me. What I want to say is this: this book is uplifting, this book is heartbreaking, this book has power. No matter who you are, (but especially if you happen to be a black wizard) I highly recommend this book.

 

 

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