Poet’s Platform: Lisbeth White

This recurring column highlights the work and lives of our poets beyond their Perugia Press books, whether it be teaching or other creative professional pursuits, visual artistry, community involvements, activism, their reading suggestions, and/or their current writing projects, processes, and proclivities. The sixth installment comes from Lisbeth White (American Sycamore, 2022), who introduces a new resource she co-edited with Tamiko Beyer and Destiny Hemphill, Poetry as Spellcasting: Poems, Essays, and Prompts for Manifesting Liberation and Reclaiming Power, out this month (launch party 5/24 – details below).

In addition to protesting, building complex communities of resistance and vision, and self-care practices, writers also have language, one of the original magicks. We too can summon our own enchantments, incantations, protections, charms, curses, hexes, blessings, auguries, banishments, and more. – Kenji C. Liu, Introduction to Unmargin Folio: Incantations

Language: One of the original magicks

Although I didn’t come to know this quote until years later, when poet and social justice writer Tamiko Beyer leaned toward me in a café to share this gleaming inspiration, I felt it backwards in my body all the way to the beginning of 2016. That was a year of intense rumblings as the political landscape took a dramatic shift. It was also the year I came back to writing after decades away, needing some way to anchor the personal terror and  overwhelming cultural energy as the urgency to protect some of our society’s most under-protected swelled. 

In that quiet moment away from Portland’s AWP in 2019, Tamiko and I found over tea one of those magical pockets of conversation in which you discover that one of your deepest hunches, one of your most pressing fascinations, is shared with equal intrigue by another. Within a few short months, we gathered with Destiny Hemphill and Tatiana Figueroa-Ramirez to lead a writing ritual at the 2019 &Now conference at University of Washington Bothell. The ritual – part poetry, part spellcasting – ended with the two dozen or so participants standing in a circle, casting a collective spell for liberation and transformation. A spell we then directed to an ICE detention center several miles away. Repeated once more for good measure, another configuration of poet-spellcasters, Beyer, Liu, Figueroa-Ramirez, and Sun Yung Shin – poets who experience language as ritual, as prayer, as power tied to the unknown – led a similar panel at AWP in March 2020. 

That was the spring that we lost our hold on time and the routines of living slipped quickly out of our perceived control. That was also the spring that poetry-as-spellcasting began to take deep root and began to become a book.

While a global pandemic raged, while climate crises magnified, while uprisings for racial justice and an attempted coup flared, co-editors Tamiko, Destiny, and I returned again and again to the growing sapling of poetry-as-spellcasting. Our intention from the beginning was to support the book that wanted to come into being, to allow the process to be as organic, fluid, and living as our lives needed to be. We kept our ears and cheeks close to its ground, listening for whispers and shouts to tell us where it needed to go. After three years of listening, responding, and gently shaping, the anthology Poetry as Spellcasting came fully into being.

The editors: Destiny Hemphill, Lisbeth White, and Tamiko Beyer

Written for poets, spell-casters, and social justice witches

Poetry as Spellcasting: Poems, Essays, and Prompts for Manifesting Liberation and Reclaiming Power is a concoction of craft stories, writing inspirations, essays of self and collective transformation, and rituals of re-membering, relearning, and reclaiming. An intentionally BIPOC and queer orientation was the first building block in this creation. We knew it was of utmost importance for our voices to be centered in this crossroads of literary magic, as both the literary industry as well as a majority of spiritual spaces continue to marginalize the contributions and roots from these communities, despite having been distinctly shaped by them. As editors, we wanted to offer a structure that we hoped would be both solid and fluid, to allow contributors space to follow what language, justice, magic, and knowing might mean to each of them. Now, holding the book in its physical form, I often feel like I am holding a vessel, a space into which writers, ritual workers, and activists have poured wisdom – and in abundance. What evolved were distinct areas of curiosity that shimmied toward each other. 

  • In the section, Portals of Inheritance: Ancestral Teachings, Possible Futures, portals are opened to messages from ancestors and for survival, featuring work from Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Laurin DeChae, and Destiny Hemphill.
  • Languages of Liberation, Disruption, and Magic explores how poetry and spellcasting allow us to enter into and harness language in active, heightened ways that both reflect reality and manifest alternatives, with writings from Kenji C. Liu and Dominique Matti (and a poem from American Sycamore).
  • Invoking Radical Imagination, with essays from Lisbeth White and Hyejung Kook, leans into the incantatory possibilities of poetry as prayer and poetry as enchantment.
  • Sacred Practices: Rituals of Repair and Revision explores writing as ritual, ritual as practice, and practice as doing, drawing connections between the creative practices of poetry and spellwork. Tamiko Beyer, Amir Rabiyah, and Tatiana Figueroa-Ramirez offer writing here.
  • Lighting Fires, Breaking Chains focuses on the explicitly magical and political nature of poetry as spellcasting, and features Lou Florez and Ching-In Chen.
  • Elemental Ecologies, Spiritual Technologies wrestles with concepts of home, colonization, and belonging, as Joan Naviyuk Kane and Sun Yung Shin share craft-full essays.
  • In Summoning Power and Closing the Circle, Destiny Hemphill’s essay charges us to listen closely and evoke the liberatory power of poetry as spellcasting. The final essay, co-written by all three editors, reflects back what we have learned from these pages and calls the reader to take this work out into the world.

The editorial process was (and is) both exhilarating and alarming. Leaving room for an organic body of work to grow made for some gaps and slips, but overall it allowed for a truly unique new form to establish itself, on its own unique terms. Poetry as Spellcasting is as much an open-handed offering as a call to action: to remember that we have, at the tips of our fingers and the tips of our tongues, a potent tool for change. We invite you all to use it – for yourselves, for each other, for us.

You’re invited: Poetry as Spellcasting Virtual Launch Party

REGISTER for our virtual launch, May 24th @ 5pm PDT/8pm EDT

Learn more about the editors