CM December 22, 
1995. Vol. II, Number 10-11

image Spells for Clear Vision.

Neile Graham.
London, ON: Brick Books, 1994. 85pp, paper, $11.95.
ISBN 0-919626-74-2

Grades 11 and up / Ages 16 and up.
Review by Liam C. Rodrigues.


"Crow Girl"

Some one must remember her name,
this girl who fills the land surrounding her.
It is certain she does. Though they're hidden
under the blanket wrapped around her,
she has sure hands. She knows the plain,
has made it into herself. It shapes her
like the grass she stands in:
blades drying, it readies itself for
snow. Rising like the white man's house
behind her, but steady and lasting
as the earth beneath her hidden feet.

graham Spells for Clear Vision is Neile Graham's second volume of poetry. Divided into four sections, this collection seems like a hodge-podge at first glance. Although this initial impression is essentially accurate, the book shouldn't be dismissed outright. Spells is formally un-centred, and sometimes guilty of sacrificing stylistic unity to exploration, but this is quickly forgotten in the overall effect.

Where other collections aspire to a cohesion that is somehow visible among the poems themselves, Spells is not so much project of unified poems as of unified action. The title suggests something magical within, and the poems do cast spells -- not of incantation, but of consequence; not of recipe and formula, but of affect and transformation.

Diverse in its influences and subjects, Spells often leaves the reader seeking connections. But don't try too hard; the collection, as the first poem points out, is "a maze," designed to mislead its audience. To experience the charm of Graham's poetry you must submit to its creative deceptions. As she herself suggests, her poems are an ether; the dragon's breath that veils the mythological forces that drive human action from the empirical world in which we think we live.

Consequently, although Spells is couched in mysticism, it is also the poetry of everyday life, and a celebration of the magical forces therein. "I believe in the common magic of forests and household gods," the narrator of the final poem explains, and this is the key to appreciating what Graham has been trying to do all along. Spells is a mystery that is indecipherable until the end, but like all good mysteries, its outcome, though withheld, is inevitable.

So form and tradition, homage and allusion, are scarce; it is the words themselves that matter. "Transcribe my stories to settle around you," she instructs, directing us to our own lives for the images and inspiration that give meaning to these poems. In "The Grass She Stands In," for example, from the first section of Spells, sea glass, photographs, and postcards represent the age; these are the artifacts that mark our existence, the spells we have cast. Graham is most effective in the "Five Crow Poems" of this first section. If few of the poems in the following sections have this haunting, holographic quality, Spells for Clear Vision remains a worthwhile, if challenging, work for senior students.


Liam C. Rodrigues is a Toronto-area writer interested in art, architecture, poetry, and all that liberal arts stuff.

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Copyright © 1995 the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.

Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364

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