Notes on Magic: Carmen Gimenez Smith Visits Writers in Community

By Michael Antinori

On Tuesday, September 24, 2013, Carmen Gimenez Smith discussed her book of poetry, City She Was, in the Writers in Community class. We were primed for the lecture with a reading prepared by Smith entitled: “Seven Notes On Magic,” in which she objects to the term magical realism, because “it implies paradox, as if Magic isn’t part of realism when in fact it’s inside the very thread of what’s real.” In her lecture, she discussed how apparently ordinary objects carry an aura of magic, because people invest those objects a personal narrative. She gave the example of a Sesame Street blanket that she had since she was a child, or how she received Peruvian blankets that gave her a more visceral sense of home than visiting the place itself. She said she loves hearing people tell the story of things that are magical to them.

Solve et Coagula. A simple formula that captures the essence of alchemy. Base metals are dissolved, then coagulated into a more pure form, and then dissolved again, until the substance becomes gold. To know ourselves in a fluid, dissolved state of becoming is impossible. To quote Smith: “[it] slipped from me like a bead of mercury.” Mercury, god of magic, with winged feet, is much too volatile to be the subject of knowledge. The volatile must be fixed. To know ourselves, that which has been dissolved must be coagulated, in identities, however artificially constructed, in objects, in which we fix our narratives about childhood innocence or that non-spatial place called home. Smith encouraged us to explore the museum of our personal artifacts, where some would see only a junk heap of accumulated stuff. And in seeing ourselves reflected in the treasures of a personal museum, we have arrived at alchemical gold.


Michael Antinori is currently an MFA student at the Jack Kerouac School at Naropa.  He left behind careers in Florida to take up writing in the Rockies.  The only thing he misses is the ocean.