Issue 8 -­­ Magic

Write Poems

Write Poems, Ben Stephenson

You will never love art well, till you love what she mirrors better.

– John Ruskin

I was the kind of child who hid even when no one was seeking. I would jump out at my parents even when they knew, and I knew that they knew, that I was behind the tree. When I was nine years old I became relatively obsessed with making quarters vanish. There was a magician at the fair in Ramsbury, my grandparents’ village in England, and after I guessed how many jars of jam were on the shelf and rode the pony around the pole, I spent the rest of the afternoon watching Matt the Marvel make things appear and disappear. He held a little gold cylinder in the plush palm of his hand which made stacks of coins – ten pence, the same size as Canadian quarters – vanish and return. The cylinder was for sale, and I begged until it was bought for me. I was also the kind of child who would read during dinner, on the bus to school, all night long. Two obsessions, perhaps related.

Two winters ago, I saw Michael Chabon, American novelist, read from his work at the Village Voice in Paris. Chabon said that he was attracted to literature – both the enjoyment and production of – for its ability to imagine places into existence. He wanted to vanish and reappear in a fictional world. The books he loved the most as a child were the ones which had maps in the frontispiece; invented cartographies established the fantastic world which followed as a tangible, navigable space. What made the imaginary worlds credible was the art which supported them. Art can also give credibility to our own (less fantastic, equally extraordinary?) lives. Art can hold a spyglass up to the world, can provide a legend which at once decodes and mystifies, conceals, disguises, enchants. The artist has the power to influence events, to produce marvels, both realistic and fantastic.

An exposition I saw in Berlin a few years ago focused on the representations of circles throughout history. Circles and spheres are used for sports and games, crystal globes, medicine wheels, astrology charts, wheels, planets, moons…Circles represent the never-ending cycle of life and perfect unity. Though circles are one of the most naturally occurring shapes, they are one of the most difficult forms to draw freehand – I am reminded of this by the pair of young boys with whom I spend Wednesdays as their personal English teacher/snack-supplier/art-teacher. The boys frustrate themselves trying to draw perfect suns, squinting their eyes at their smudged and lumpy ovals.

The compass is employed to make coarse hands deft: it was depicted in medieval manuscripts as a symbol of God’s act of creation. Circles have been used throughout history to represent both power and divinity; those with a circle, whether in the form of a sceptre or a halo, have the power to influence and produce worldly or otherworldly events. A circle is both zero and infinity, and this has mathematical, philosophical, and religious consequences. The exposition made me realize that a circle is at once fantastic and, well, a bit banal. The rolling or spinning of a circle is at once perfectly predictable and yet, in some ways, entirely random. To control that motion, to make something either serviceable or beautiful, shows the “artful” influence of the human hand. Artists’ use of the circle involves transforming nature into artifice.

In the last issue, I wrote about the power of language to create. Now I would like to think about the power of the “speaker,” the artist, the creator. The work in this issue is at turns fantastic and realistic, or both at once; it is artifice – making the reader and viewer aware of the role of the artists whose work is featured here.

Harriet Alida Lye, Editor in Chief

ISSN: 2116 34X