Review: Curses, Black Spells, and Hexes: A Grimoire Sonnetica by Juleigh Howard-Hobson

Curses, Black Spells, and Hexes: A Grimoire Sonnetica by Juleigh Howard-Hobson
Alien Buddha Press (July 23, 2021)
33 pages; $10.44 paperback
Reviewed by Joshua Gage

Juleigh Howard-Hobson is most widely known for her modern poetry which is written in form. Working under the principle that taboos — even literary ones — must always be challenged, she also writes fiction, creative non-fiction, reviews, and articles in various genres from literary to pulp horror. Recognition for her poetry spans decades, from the 1980 ANZAC Day Award (in Australia) to nominations for Best of the Net, the Pushcart Prize, the Rhysling Award, and the Elgin Award. Her most recent book is Curses, Black Spells and Hexes: A Grimoire Sonnetica, which is a combination spell book and poem sequence sure to delight fans of horror poetry. 

What makes Curses, Black Spells and Hexes: A Grimoire Sonnetica unique is that not only is Howard-Hobson working within the known poetic framework of a sonnet, but is creating an instruction manual for dark witches. These are poems, to be sure, but they’re also working spells. Howard-Hobson writes in the introduction, “These particular poems utilize the magical advantage of what is called dark magic, what some people think of as devilry. These poems contain spell workings. Charms. Incantations. Curses. These poems contain information about all those things.” This makes for a very lyric collection that taps into some of the darker aspects of modern witchcraft. 

Because these poems are also spells, though, they often lack the elements that one would expect from poems. The ingredient-list nature and the instruction nature of the poems leads to some weak line breaks and rhymes, and makes for some clunky lines. At times, Howard-Hobson is able to maintain a very solid meter and poetic flow, as in the opening lines of “A Spell to Get Rid of Bad Neighbors”:

First get a paper wasp nest, small enough
To fit inside a pint jar, then you’ll need
To have a red beeswax candle. Make rough
Cuts in the candle all over so it bleeds
Hot wax down freely. Dress it with a sweet
Almond oil then roll it in hot chili

These lines are rich with visual and olfactory imagery and a tight meter and form. The line breaks make sense, and the rhymes are unique but unforced. Poems like this show that Howard-Hobson knows her craft and is able to hone strong poems. However, one will occasionally get lines like:

First you must find a clean blue glass bottle
with a lid or cork. Then you will need to
write down the full names of the two people
you wish to have break up. Write them in blue
ink on brown paper (paper bags can be

These lines, from the poem “Hair Charm to Break a Couple Up,” read as clunky. The meter is off in a few places and the rhymes are dependent on weak words and line breaks. It’s clear that this is due to the nature of the spell, though readers will get a sense that Howard-Hobson could have spent more time with these weaker poems to make them as strong as the others in the collection.

Overall, Curses, Black Spells and Hexes: A Grimoire Sonnetica is a very interesting concept for poetry. It’s a grimoire of dark spells, but it’s also a collection of independent sonnets. The idea of rhyming spells is nothing new, but Juleigh Howard-Hobson makes this idea her own. Even though she’s harkening back to Elizabethan poetry, she’s able to make these poems new and fresh, and to imply some really dark results with these spells. This is a really dark collection that any fan of horror poetry would be interested in.

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