THE LIGHT KNOWS TRICKS by Jo Hemmant – Review by E.E. Nobbs

light-knows-cover-1_4-jpegforpostcardTHE LIGHT KNOWS TRICKS, Jo Hemmant (Doire Press, 2013)
Available to buy HERE. €12.00 (free worldwide shipping)

Jo Hemmant has been publishing poetry since 2011 at her Pindrop Press. I first met Jo a couple of years ago at one of Bill Greenwell’s popular online poetry clinics – giving me an advance peek at drafts of her own poems, some of which ended up in her first poetry collection – The Light Knows Tricks. And because I’d had that early peek, I ordered the book right away.

Qualities that no doubt make Jo an excellent publisher, editor and judge of other people’s poems can be seen in her own work where everything about the individual poems and the work as a whole is well-written and skillfully orchestrated. Adept at both story-telling and character sketches, she gives us an amazing variety of people in an amazing variety of situations, settings and centuries.

Like the knotted colourful silk scarves that seem to come out of a magician’s black hat forever, we’re presented throughout this collection the kaleidoscope of twists & turns & tricks of life –surprising, pleasurable, scary, unsettling, deadly, ordinary. There’s a dizzying mix of settings – times & places – some near, some far. Jo shows us the extraordinary aspects of what happens during so-called ordinary days: up close to the scar on the back of stranger’s head, the speaker feels a sudden desire to touch it; a day-dreaming teenager travels far and obsessively . Everything is more than at first it seems. It’s like we’ve got front row seats at a magician’s show.

One of the ‘acts’ at this poetry show is a brilliant 12-poem sequence that whisks us inside the minds of Houdini & his wife Bess. The final poem in the sequence “A Magician Among the Spirits” is a ‘what if’ poem. Houdini spent much effort during his life showing up spiritualists and their séances as frauds & trickery. But now we feel sweet tenderness & irony & grieving –

Our cipher leaves my mouth,
a key to your world. The flame goes out.
You turn, look straight through my illusion.
Believe, Bess, believe.

A favourite of mine is the first poem of the collection, “An Engine Room Off the Coast of North Africa” where a young man imagines a dust cloud from burst pipes is

a woman’s ghost, a chiffon negligée,
reminder of what they’ve missed.

And he pretends to dance with her – much to the delight of his companions. His playfulness has eased the harsh working conditions for the men – but there’s extra poignancy for the reader who knows that the men have been poisoned.

A second 12-poem sequence ends the book with a beginning, following the events of pregnancy & the new baby – the scary magic of motherhood.

The poems often deal with unwanted realities – small & big, sometimes waiting for the other shoe to drop, knowing it will. The collection made me think about the nature of magicians, magic & the enjoyment of being tricked, the purposes of a sense of wonder and imagination. Can magic heal? How real are our imaginations? What does it mean to believe? The archetypical Trickster shakes things up, makes change happen – we act foolishly, learn things that we wouldn’t have chosen to learn, get waylaid and start down a new yellow brick road …


Jo doesn’t sugar coat – her people face many challenges – dangers psychological & physical – everyday tedium, abuse, teenage angst, pregnancy. It’s the old maxim – everyone’s got problems.

Quote from Einstein –

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”

So perhaps imagination is magic. Sometimes it can delude. But perhaps it can also illuminate. How else can we hope to connect with the rest of the world and see itspossibilities?

My friend Issy Clarke on her Spoken Horse blog got me thinking this year about the need for “rational magic”.

She led me to reading excerpts from The Re-Enchantment of the World:Secular Magic in a Rational Age, Eds. by Joshua Landy and Michael Saler. I found the Intro online & also a useful review.

The Spell of the Sensuous by David Abram is a book I found from my own explorations – the author is an anthropologist, ecologist and also a practicing magician! Here’s the whole book as a PDF and here’s a review.

And the reason I mention these books and posts, is that I believe Jo has done something valuable with her poetry – she’s given us an opportunity for re-enchantment and reconnection (each of us being parts of the larger whole) through wonder and magic; and poetry is well suited to this task. And it can help us not restrict ourselves, not just survive, to keep open, more connected – to live fully.

Jo said I could include this poem below (about an event from 2010) which for me proves why we need our imaginations.

Chilean mining accident

Interview with a Chilean Miner

What kept me sane? Astral travel.
You look skeptical but I’m not the only one
to have talked of how it is down there:

go far enough, you actually feel the earth throb —
she’s like a wound; a banged gong. At night
I’d lie on the floor, nothing between

me and her, a tablet on a tongue, meditate
until every bone and muscle dissolved
and I could float on a raft of magnetic waves

through 2,000 feet of rock into the night,
the air clean and cold as spring water. I’d only
to point my arms towards Copiapo’s lights

and out I’d fly; over the desert scrub into town,
over luckier men stumbling home
till I was the wrong side of our door

which I’d rush like blood through a valve —
greeted by the smell of rice and beans still warm
on the stove, the radio on for company.

She’d be asleep in our room, a series of bumps
under the quilt. I’d slip in, spoon to her egg, giddy
at the peppery nape of her neck, the nest of damp curls.

I’d fight sleep but it always won. That
was the worst of it: to wake up next to Gomez,
his arm across my chest, strapping me in.

“The first view of the Chilian miners is here.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miners’_survival_during_2010_Copiap%C3%B3_mining_accident#mediaviewer/File:Mina_San_Jos%C3%A9_-_first_view_of_chilean_miners_-_Gobierno_de_Chile.jpg

Review by E.E. Nobbs

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