BY JACKLYN JANEKSELA
What happens when two energies collide as if they were falling stars against an inky sky? What happens when two cauldrons boil over and into each other? What happens when two spirits are provoked to write as though conjoined and based on intuition? A Red Witch, Every Which Way is that result of such syntheses. The binding of unwinding and winding again, it’s the stitching of words, pages, and spirits. It is a spell the universe hummed into two sets of ears, banged into a writing desk, bled into a pen.
It’s not certain how the book is written. That’s to say, there’s no evidence of who’s words belong to whom. And in ambiguity lies the beauty behind Cook and hastain’s tandem poetry. Even more uncertain is the process through which they wrote the book. One imagines a string of emails or texts, one hopes for handwritten letters and astral plane meetings. Whatever the case, the result is both spooky and sensual – the fantasy of Neptune mixes with the underworld of Pluto. It’s phantasmagoric and it’s not for the faint of heart. It’s seething with instinct of both animal and spirit sources; it burgeons with doll parts, jarred hearts, and cat’s claw. Cook and hastain have gifted A Red Witch, Every Which Way and we should be grateful for it’s a mini-grimoire to which we should pray.
Written in Acts, each section bolsters a particular set of spells that carry the reader from one destination to another – without caveats, the writers push the reader forward, ever forward towards an impending final. The final could simply be the end of the book, but it could also be death or the killing of concepts, the killing of what seems to be a safe in a society that pushes aside witches and warlocks. The final smites a secure life for one that is raw and real, one connected to both tangible and ethereal. What lies between these pages are abstract word pairings, magical visions, and shamanic notions – it’s enough to make the head spin on itself like a top, like the Earth on its axis, like this book in the palm of your hand.
Act I feels like experiments of Mary Shelley proportions. One walks into the laboratory and notices jar after jar of poems – fairytale and Mother Goose in image and rhyme. The poems in Act I are enough to urge the Grimm Brothers to be even grimmer. There is a peeling back curtains to reveal what lies behind folklore and fables. Behold the grotesque existential questions that are sprinkled throughout Act I. Dare ask yourself, dare answer.
Act II lifts a candle to people, place, and pieces. More fairytale references to wrestle with; plus confrontations of religious and political nature. Childhood speckles Act II and it’s as though it’s the salt to this potage. If Act II has a motif is would be transformation. Watch all the bending, bleeding, spilling, twisting, turning, and contorting on the page – between and betwixt words and line breaks. Read the poems aloud in a dark room and feel the cadence as they fall of your fat tongue. Each poem is a magic recipe, take note.
Act III summons all the ghosts and ghouls it can, as if the first two acts didn’t house enough already. Gathering the necessary tools, the writers weave death and life poems into a fabric fit enough for a conjure queen or a death goddess. Bodies as nations, as political armor, as manifested energy flow into a deep introspection as the writers touch both their own reality as well as that of fellow creatures. Here, the focus falls on mixing dream states with nightmare, fact with fiction, all four elements, plus the fifth the ether – the inner voice.
The book finishes with a candid interview between Cook and hastain. Revealing themselves as multifaceted beings who teeter between emotional states in order to make art, and not just any macabre art, but one that satisfies the soul and the death guardians. They discuss baby birds, inhibitions, self-explorations, moods, ebb and flow, pages-by-hand, aphasia and synesthesia, promotion as pleasure, the church, and shamanism. What ends up happening in the interview is exactly what happens in the book itself – a blending of two voices so that it feels like one. Although clearly separate entities, even the interview doesn’t allow the knife to cut these two apart. It’s as though divine timing fused them for that moment where neither name nor title could break them apart. So lovely is the feeling that they were bound and protected for the duration of this book spell that one wants to go back to page one, start again, and feel the magic love and death spells drip off the page and into veins.
jacklyn janeksela is a wolf and a raven, a cluster of stars, & a direct descent of the divine feminine. she can be found @ Pank, Split Lip, Landfill, Yes Poetry, The Opiate, Vending Machine Press, Entropy; A Shadow Map (CCM) & Rooted anthology (Outpost 19); & elsewhere. she is in a post-punk band called the velblouds. her baby @ femalefilet. her chapbook, fitting a witch // hexing the stitch (The Operating System, 2017). she is an energy. find her @ hermetic hare for herbal astrology readings.