BUT IS IT LIT? // Spells and Incantations

The very first evening it felt like fall this year, I curled myself up in an oversized flannel shirt, whiskey-spiked tea in hand, and pushed <PLAY> to begin re-watching, possibly, one of the best movies made about witches of all time: Practical Magic (will someday write an entire BUT IS IT LIT? // Sandra Bullock).

For those who have not experienced the beauty of this 1998 rom/com/dram starring the aforementioned and Nicole Kidman, the story centers around two witch-sisters cursed to forever have the men they love meet an untimely death. At a young age, the main character creates and casts a love spell that she believes will never be applicable to a man, thus saving her the strife of a broken heart.

It was either the crisp air tumbling in through my open window, or Stevie Nicks’s voice swooning during a close-up of a full moon on the television that made me remember the love spell wrote after having seen this movie for the first time. I was 12 years old; my walls were full of Backstreet Boys posters, and my face was full of zits. The hormones were raging, and the daydreams about someday-loves were always full-length feature films in my mind. The unmistakable wobble that comes with navigating adolescence underlined pure magic as the only thing to lean on. A simple spell written in bright pink marker seemed the one logical step to take next in my rickety journey towards young adulthood.

Below is an actual piece of my life sixteen years ago. No shame.

love spell

Sixteen years later and, though I have steadied myself, I am still fascinated by the raw power of words. I am not convinced lighting a candle and sprinkling flower petals around an object representing that which I desire is absolutely necessary, but there remains an optimism in the idea that maybe, if we feel the tiny bones of our fingers creak beneath the pen, or if we sense the weighted air move inside our lungs as we speak, our wishes might come true. Our designs may manifest.

A Brief Poetry/Spell Compare and Contrast

  • Most spells tend to reflect periods of time and commonalities of the human experience such as times of loss and love; times we are fearful, times of abundance and thankfulness, times of hope. Poetry and literature call to us because they are inspired by those same experiences.
  • Poems share pieces of the author with the rest of the world. Spells are also flavored by their creators and casters who often include personal traditions and practices.
  • Spells and incantations often take those things which we view as ordinary (stones, herbs, flowers, pieces of twine, candles, etc.) and make them magical. Somehow, there is a way to feel the atoms move through pieces of amethyst as you hold them in your hands by candlelight. Similarly, poems draw mysticism from the floorboards of every day life. Think of “The Red Wheelbarrow” by William Carlos Williams.
  • Like poems, spells and incantations contain carefully chosen, purposeful words. These words are cast out, sent into space to bring us something in return. Where a spell may ask for luck in job endeavors or help in navigating the roads of a romance, a poem may ask for clarity enough to see deeply into the the smoke of life, safe passage to the other side.

Here’s an incantation that has resonated not only with the daydreaming diviner in me, but with the poet as well. It’s taken from Llewellyn’s 2014 Witches’ Spell-A-Day Almanac: Holidays & Lore.

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I also highly recommend Sister Karol’s Book of Spells and Blessings by Karol Jackowski.

In closing, I leave you with a local “Love Potion 717″ written by The Triangle’s dear friend, natural gatherer and collector of light, Michelle Johnsen (you can check out her enchanting photography here).

“Love Potion 717″
Michelle Johnsen

meet me in the garden;
we’ve elixirs to compose-
damiana, coriander,
kava root, and rose;

cinnamon and cardamom
with hawthorne (just a pinch)
from lovely green and rooted plants;
and one song from the finch.

then meet me in the apiary
we’ve honey to collect-
an ancient potion element
to aid in its effects.

and now we to the kitchen
to set his heart aflame
by simmering decoctions
while whispering his name.

bottle with a ginkgo sprig,
store in darkness, shake at noon
beneath the sun for four long weeks-
open at full moon.

deftly dip the dropper
into wine or mead or brew
and offer to this cherished man-
make true love come to you.





Visual Interview: Wendy C. Ortiz

For Visual Interviews we send a writer a disposable camera and a list of ideas to photograph along with a few short questions. Once the camera is mailed back, we develop the photos and arrange them collage style to give you a unique glimpse into the life of the writer we’ve selected. Check out past Visual Interviews and stay tuned because we have Lindsay HunterAdam Robinson, Roxane Gay, and a group interview with Boost House coming up over the next couple of months!

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Wendy C. Ortiz is the author of Excavation: A Memoir (Future Tense Books, 2014) Her second book, Hollywood Notebook, is forthcoming from Writ Large Press in spring 2015. You can follow Wendy on Twitter at @WendyCOrtiz. Interview curated by Erin Dorney and Tyler Barton.

Photographs by Wendy C. Ortiz and her almost-four-year-old, text by Wendy C. Ortiz. Items we could identify include: Wendy C. Ortiz, Wendy C. Ortiz’s primary mode of transportation (a car which was stolen sometime after being photographed), Wendy C. Ortiz’s favorite place to buy groceries, Wendy C. Ortiz’s magenta running shorts (up close and personal), and Wendy C. Ortiz’s arm.

BUT IS IT LIT? // Time Capsule Poetry

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Suddenly it was August 25th 2014, a complete rotation of the earth around the sun. During those 365 days, eight pieces of literature were hibernating under the earth at Lancaster’s Buchanan Park.

I’m going to jump ahead and spoil the question that this article series asks: YES.

The idea was this:

1. Let’s have a picnic at Buchanan Park in Lancaster City.

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2. Let’s (all eight of us) free-write on a single prompt together.

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3. Let’s rip the pages out of our notebooks, put those pages in a glass mason jar, and push that jar into the ground.

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4. Let’s dig a hole, take some pictures, and use our collective memory to mark the spot in the earth.

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5. Let’s take pictures

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6. Let’s do one of those cool group-moves that sports teams do where they all put their hands in the middle and then yell something.

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A few weeks ago was a year, and we followed through.

It was exciting being back at the park, in the shade of the same widespread pine tree. Some of us hadn’t hung out in a year; some us of now lived together. We all sat on blankets and talked, ate snacks, and joked, “What if we can’t find it?”

Well, at first we couldn’t. It took some detailed cross-referencing with those disposable-camera film photos from that first day; it took a lot of little trowel- holes, a lot of discussion.

But when we struck the glass, we found our jar intact, sealed tight, holding a series of items:



A piece of string

Some stones

A cicada shell

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and the following poems:

How Is The Sun Touching Me

by Erin Dorney

Maybe if I was buried for one year I could forget all of the words that have ever been spoken. With a thick layer of soil above me I would certainly forget the sound of raindrops on overturned plastic buckets, golf balls smashing through panes of glass, and cicadas shivering off their skins.

Maybe if I was buried for one year I would want to stay buried for a second year, a third, a fourth—maybe I would stay buried until I turned fifty, emerging from the ground only after my reproductive organs were useless pieces floating inside my gut.

If you laid down above me, on a thin cotton blanket, pressed your ear to the ground and listened closely, I might/might not whisper I’m coming home soon.

 Wrong Kid Died

by Ellen Thilo

From under the gladstone overhead
I am surrounded, trapt in a world once silent

and one year later
Ascend like kings
my soul for glory
divine air

You Are To Be Buried For a Year

by Tyler Barton

I am not you, so no, I will not talk about the worms. I know the second you think about the earth, you will see the worms in your eye holes, and the whole gorging-on-my-flesh dirtiness, so no. This is not for you any way.

It is for me sleeping self I write this. Being that the hole is already dug (I wouldn’t have laid it out in the sun like that) my advice to me is this:

  1. Read a lot. Bring books. Use time wisely as your mother used to say.
  2. Bring nuts. It’s going to be a food that nourishes. If you survive (and I doubt you will) you’ll be thinking peanuts, almonds, you’ll wake up praising the Greek god of the nut. They won’t even take up much room.
  3. Pay keen attention to smell.
  4. Given you are alive and kicking when the box is opened in a year, greet the old new world you knew with respect; do not try to profit. Meaning, don’t sell tickets. Don’t write a book and start a cult and become the new messiah. We don’t need anymore of those.
  5. Also, bring beef jerky.
  6. Bring porn. They still make it in magazines. There’s no wifi underground.
  7. Try eating bugs. For protein, for boredom, whatever, just try it why not who cares.
  8. When you–if you–come up out of the ground in 12 months, you won’t sleep for a year I’ll bet. This isn’t really advice. Just a wager.
  9. Clear up all your squabbles and trifles. Forgive everyone and pay them all back the money you owe them. You don’t want to spend all those hours wishing you had told whoever you loved them. You don’t want to enter this with resentment. Be a clean slate. Peaceful. You also don’t need anyone cursing you while you’re down there because you need all the luck you can get, all the karma and positive energy you can get.
  10. Almost forgot–meditate. Learn how. If you can meditate and basically fast down there for a year you could come back a Buddha. You’d have to leave the porn though.
  11. And if you do come back the Buddha…don’t start a cult. I know I already said this but don’t do it. Don’t cash in. Don’t do what David Blaine would do, whatever you do.
  12. I’m going to end before the unlucky number. Okay: wait until three days before you get out and make a to-do list. Don’t make one the second you’re in there, and don’t make one now; things will change. Make a list during your last days down there of what you’ll do when you climb out and I promise you’ll do every thing.


by Sam Sweigert

When I lay on my stomach my legs
automatically curl back behind me
like a  faded heat desert bug, and I
can’t help
-scraping up the ground.
-clapping my feet together.
I fold in on myself in front of people
and it’s awkward.

I imagine I am part of a circus, and
this is my act of contortion.
—why people pay money to be ringside.
—why popcorn is shoved beneath floorboards.
The way I relax is body percussion
and it’s awkward.

My hair is one-sided and I have grass
from my knees to my neck,
and my freckles fall out of my shoulders.
—seep into the groundwater.
—morph into tiny bugs.
I am little dots and particles pieced together
and it’s awkward.


by Alyssa Giannini

The sounds of the city
can be muffled if you try
in a park,
you can hear the breeze through the trees
spokes of a bike
chirp of a bird
cicadas singing summer’s end in a park,

you can find grass
between your toes
the sun touching rose petals
or skeletons of insects resting
on a bed of pine needles

and for a moment
you can forget the brick and cement
hurry of impatient cars
in favor of
simpler joys, gentler surroundings

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For a timecapsule, this was clearly a short one. But for a writer, a year is a long time to take before looking back at something you wrote. We’d all changed our lives: one of us had moved to Washington state, two of us had graduated college, two had left their jobs, many had started new ones. Most of all, we’d all grown a lot as artists. Seeing an artistically year-younger-you is like looking at greying photograph, but for an artist of any kind, this recognition is vital and beneficial.

Knowing that it is essential to track one’s progress, to mark time, to celebrate time: we wrote again. And we buried it again (with more people this time). And we’ll be back at that tree next August.

(video by Aaron Spangler)

Visual Interview: Josh Raab

For Visual Interviews we send a writer a disposable camera and a list of ideas to photograph along with a few short questions. Once the camera is mailed back, we develop the photos and arrange them collage style to give you a unique glimpse into the life of the writer we’ve selected. Check out past Visual Interviews and stay tuned because we have Lindsay HunterAdam Robinson, Roxane Gay, and Wendy C. Ortiz coming up over the next couple of months!

josh raabpiggas stationtrailerbillboardjosh raabmarketdeski dont know what this isbeachhandsign

Josh Raab is the founder of theNewerYork, an explorative platform and press for publishing innovative literature and art. Interview curated by Erin Dorney and Tyler Barton. Photographs and text by Josh Raab.

Photographs and text by Josh Raab: a) a “shitty blue shirt” that Josh Raab got from buffalo exchange and wears all the time; b) an animal that Josh Raab owns; c) Josh Raab’s soulmate getting gas; d) an amazing airstream (?) trailer; e) an Ariana Grande billboard; f) Josh Raab; g) Atwater Village Farmer’s Market, Josh Raab’s favorite place to buy groceries; h) where Josh Raab writes; i) a weird mannequin guy suspended by wires that Josh Raab saw somewhere; j) a beautiful landscape that Josh Raab swears he shot upside down but we rotated it anyways; k) Josh Raab’s favorite coffee mug; l) a street sign Josh Raab reads as an omen/metaphor.

Who Reads Short-Shorts? Lancaster Does.


Poetry readings abound in the south-central PA area. If you look at our calendar you can see that the open-mic poetry reading is the most common type of literary happening.

On Friday, September 12th, The Triangle teamed up with the weirdo-chic It’s Modern Art to try something a little different. The event, To The Quick!, was a night of short-short storytelling. There was no featured reader, just an hour of volunteer readers who delivered fiction stories under 1000 words.

The genre, known as flash  fiction, highlights brevity, power, and punch. These types of stories aim to push the boundaries of “doing more with less”. The fifty people in attendance were fed stories filled with characters who eat lipstick, animal-sounds from the center of the earth, a baby carried to the site of a shooting, Robert J. Oppenheimer, and much more. The stories were as strangely beautiful as the studio they were being told in. As diverse as they were, the stories had, at least, concision in common.

Check out the video for a look at what It’s Modern Art looks like full of writers and listeners on a sunny, late-summer night.

(Watch it in HD!)

Thanks to everyone involved with the reading, especially the wonderful people at It’s Modern Art.

You’ve Got 132 Characters To Scare The S*&# Out Of Us

scary stories book series

I distinctly remember, in my childhood library, skipping quickly over Alvin Schwartz’s “Scary Stories” books on the shelves. The haunting covers, the memory of one story about a girl with her head attached by a single, pretty ribbonI was terrified that just being in the book’s presence would draw horrible creatures closer to me.

How can words be so petrifying, so manipulative, so… arresting?

With Halloween quickly approaching, many of us will don costumes in order to scare our friends. But what if we had the opportunity to frighten using words alone? Enter Fly Magazine‘s Tweetable Horror Story Project.

From now until November, all you have to do is login to your Twitter account and craft a horrifying tale in less than 140 characters. Tag your entry with #fly140 and the magazine will RT and print their favorites in upcoming issues.

I checked the hashtag while writing this articleand immediately closed the tab. This stuff is not to be read alone, in the dark, with only the glow of a computer screen. Writers, show us what you’ve got.

Interview with Donna Talarico

donna-talarico-headshot-stairs-webMidway through our conversation, halfway through a sentence, Donna Talarico’s head turns to watch a car speed down Harrisburg Avenue.

“Oh my god, this weird car just drove by…Did you see it?…It’s like a go-kart or something.”

I squint down the street and make out unusual tail-lights.

“See, there’s a story,” she says excitedly before jumping right back into our conversation about (wouldn’t you know it) stories. She’s full of them, a product of her environment. Editor-in-chief of a literary magazine, Wilkes University MFA grad, journalist, and avid reader, Donna is surrounded by, obsessed with, and ever-curious for stories.

“This is one of the reasons I’ve always been drawn to non-fiction,” she tells me outside of Lancaster’s Mean Cup cafe, “I wanted to tell these stories I was finding.” She discovered this interest as an undergrad during her first round at Wilkes, as a radio/television major. Piecing together the script for the campus TV news station intrigued her, but she found her true groove when she started working for the school newspaper. “I kind of just loved telling stories, so I switched gears,” she says. However, life called, and as a sophomore she made the decision to leave school to take a full time job working in radio.

But the itch didn’t go away. She began writing for the local weekly newspaper, The Weekender. At first she was writing album reviews and shorter pieces, but when she noticed what she refers to as “the breath-mint craze” spreading across America, she pitched a story. “You know, it had always been just Altoids, Lifesavers, Certs. But then everyone started coming out with these new breath mints, so I thought, ‘wouldn’t it be interesting to do a taste test?'” The paper dug the idea and told her to pursue it. The story ended up on the front page: “Fresh Breath Industry: Making a Mint”

“I loved headlines, especially play-on-words. So, I ended up writing for them for almost ten years. I got so much out of doing the feature stories…I would drive around, see things, and think ‘I want to know about that.'”

During those years she also worked for the daily paper as a “stringer,” covering board meetings, township meetings, and other correspondence. This was all in her spare time, while she was working in a college admissions office. She had a day job and a night job, the latter being a labor of love. She says of being a correspondent for the paper, “It taught me to turn a around a story quickly. I’d get home from these meetings at 9 or 10 at night and I’d have to have the story filed before the next morning.” She loved this work for how it forced her to economize words and keep them to a limit, something she says she still struggles with.

Stories being everything, Donna was eager to tell her own. In 2007, she  began working towards her MFA in creative non-fiction at Wilkes University. She speaks highly of her experiences there, especially regarding the people she met and bonded with. “Many of us still get together twice a year for writing retreats…Six of us have matching tattoos.” she says. Of her MFA experience, she went on to add, “It was important. It helped me grow the thick skin I need to survive in the literary landscape today.”

But that wasn’t all she got out of it. During one of the program’s summer sessions, in a class on publishing, her professors Phil Brady and Chris Busa tasked the class with coming up with their own ideas for literary magazines. That day, Donna imagined a creative non-fiction magazine called Hippocampus. She loved the name so much that she went home that night and bought the domain name. It was just that good.

Donna moved to Lancaster County in 2010, when she took a job in the Marketing and Communications office at Elizabethtown College. Soon after, in the spring of 2011, the domain name she had sat on for two years was put to use. Hippocampusmagazine.com is now home to hundreds of published memoirs, flash non-fiction stories, and essays. She has a diverse, qualified volunteer staff  (full disclosure, after our interview I became a  non-fiction reader) who help to put out the magazine’s monthly  issue online. Hippocampus Magazine aims not only to publish work, but to connect with audience and community, as well as educate writers. The website features interviews, reviews, and craft essays alongside abundant and impressive creative non-fiction content.

It’s a big project that doesn’t show any signs of slowing. In 2015 Donna plans to publish the inaugural print issue for Hippocampus, a collection of the site’s best work to date. Not only that, but Donna and her team have launched a weekend-long, creative non-fiction writing conference (fittingly titled HippoCamp) that will take place at the end of the summer. Although the panels, break-out sessions, and keynote speakers have yet to be announced, Donna is confident this event is going to bring a lot of writers to Lancaster next August. She says, “I don’t want it to be the same old writing conference; the goal of Hippocampus is to entertain, educate, and engage and that is what we’re focusing on. I want it to be a learning experience throughout the weekend.”

Ambitious? Yes, and committed. Add busy. Donna’s love for stories, words, and writers forces her to be ever-doing, ever-reaching, and ever-writing. She envisions future projects for herself focused on prescriptive or literary journalism, writing that has the creative freedom to flesh out true stories. “I’ve been trying to get better at time-management, so I can do more of the things I want to do” she tells me. Besides Hippocampus and her own creative writing, she keeps a professional website and an active blog about the work-life balance called All The Sh*t Done. Needless to say, Donna Talarico consistently gets sh*t done and we love it.


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