Poems Found in Charmaine Chan’s Magic Circle


Photograph by Justin Belcher

by Adam Staley Groves

The Magic Circle,
by Charmaine Chan,
Ethos Books, 304 pp.

Recently, I read The Magic Circle, then found some poems when I heard Charmaine Chan read a few excerpts. So here is a review, but it is a review by the criteria of poetry and not, literary or critical, this or that.

The poetic junctures of the reading, sprung up there in her reading, then reminded me the text is molten, vital. Then with the voice of the author, the author-author, the poem rang together, an all-together magnitude. The text had expressed a point of view.

And so in literature, there roam poems. I had once learned and have not forgotten, that

today poetry is literature more often than not; for poetry partakes of what may be called the tendency to become literature. Life itself partakes of this tendency.

The words of Wallace Stevens are true, if we recall the world before Aristotle had no word for literature, but did for poetry.

Here then are a few poems found in Chan’s Magic Circle. The titles are mine, but the words are the book’s poems, those beneath the literature, that have been punctuated.

Heart Lasso

Here was this creature
Looking up
At her.

All liquid, brown
Eyes and

Gold didn’t have:
Skin and bone,
Didn’t belong.

We got to keep him.


Gasping Humour

We, merriment
Deep springing from
Our eyes

With neon energy
Spread out within
Vast, exhausting territories,
Internecine network
Grinding humanity.


Wishing Thought of Something

Long white dresses.

At the very least
Eyes squint,
Sunshine made blurry.

Sudden timed
Movements, clues
To her, to us,


World Envelope

Since the time you opened
Eyes to this world.
She has been there.
Indefinably coloured,

How you make sense of
A world,
No longer

Two new unwanted companions:
Black shadows
Bottomless feet


He Would Often Talk

A guest
In David’s eyes
Would often talk
Of the other
At the time
In every turn.

Until we looked up
To see two,
Startled eyes

From across
In front of us.

They belonged to two
Small boys
Sitting and


Window Watcher

Eyes unseeing
In dark shadows sheer
A caged animal
Clad in,
Captured in,
The window.
Disappears the horizon.

The light dimmed
A few animated conversations collecting
Unshed tears


Memories of a Bruise

Both large and small
At the same time
Paints her
In different
Purple bruises bloom
Around her.
Of shyest
Springtime violets

Some days you can
Close your eyes
You can
Waiting, waiting
Be merciful.

Baudelaire said critics cannot become poets, to do so they would be monstrosities, poets may become critics and in fact, the best of critics. As I get older I learn how to be a critic which is to say, not much of one if by the criteria of literary theory, if by the criteria of critical theory, which Baudelaire had never heard of.

Elsewhere Baudelaire says

To be just, that is to say, to justify its existence, criticism should be partial, passionate and political, that is to say, written from an exclusive point of view, but a point of view that opens up the widest horizons.

For now, I am content to find poems in literature, as to advance a point shared with another poet, one I know and care for.
That in the prose
A ribbon hangs,
A letter is
Out of sorts, tilted.

This is the point where the poem passes into the night that is our world.
The page is an envelope, carries the formless current for forms.
But one needs a lasso,
To capture the humour of the thing,
Wishing for a thought of something,
As an empty page could,
A page full of ordinary letters.

Because a page will talk and say nothing, and we
Watch on the other side of a window, holding the watery fact of our reflection,
So our face is a bruise
In the window,
A memory that, blurry,
Washes and moves
Into the definite indefinite.

And then says Baudelaire

The critic should arm himself from the start with a sure criterion, a criterion drawn from nature, and should then carry out his duty with passion; for a critic does not cease to be a man, and passion draws similar temperaments together and exalts the reason to fresh heights.

And Stevens could say the critic of reality,
Rather than the painter of modern life,
Is always by accident inflating,
The inanimate with the truth of its unreal reality.
The illusion is so great,
The pressure as it were,
The pressure is the best illusion,
So that the statue moves with or without.
The statue is a point uncoiling,
The coil behind that crooking letter.

The criterion drawn from nature is the point of view where nothing seen in reality reigns every figure of every letter.

Why? Because Stevens had said, had even written, that
Disclosures soak into contents,
Or the page,
Especially when consciousness is tending to the suppression of the unreal,
A necessary suppression,
What gives rise to an angel or an angle,
What makes the picture on the wall crooked and carpets vital holders of secrets.

Disclosure is universally diverse. As with this book, that has been reviewed by a criteria of poetry, a theory of poetry and for our health.


About the Author:

Adam Staley Groves’s research focuses on the “theory of poetry” of Wallace Stevens and other modernist poets. He is a teaching fellow at Tembusu College, National University of Singapore.