Thursday, April 13, 2023

Jones, Of Weeds and Witches (2022)

Shelly Jones, Of Weeds and Witches. Alien Buddha Press, 2022. Pp. 36. ISBN 979-8-357779-18-2. $10.99.

Reviewed by Julie Reeser

Shelly Jones is an educator, author, and researcher nominated for a Pushcart Prize, a Dwarf Star Award, and she has been a finalist for the Best Microfiction 2023. Their chapbook, Of Weeds and Witches, contains twenty-four poems that thrum with mythical magic. Nature lurks and drips from the lines, midwifed by women seeking power, revenge, or escape. The titular poem was published in Issue 58 of The Future Fire, and it’s lovely to see it put in service as an anchor for this collection. While eighteen of the poems have been previously published, six will be new to fans of their work.

Many of the entries feature women who are alone: from famous Penelope to the unnamed or forgotten. These heroines call upon stories or seeds or storms to advance their own tales, defeat enemies, or find lost loves. I appreciated the marriage of mythical meaning and timeless interpersonal troubles examined through a literary approach full of wisdom and inner fire.

An example, and my favorite of the chapbook, is “Penelope Learns to Weave a Double Helix.” At two pages, it’s one of the longest selections. I loved the unique reinforcement of Penelope’s agency and talent. Here is a heroine who doesn’t simply accept her plight, but who uses her wiles, as strong as her husband’s, to think beyond her social limits. Plus, the title is just so clever. Beyond the story captured in the poem is, of course, the lyricism Jones uses in telling it. “You are not the only one / who has slept with monsters, / but mine are of my own design.”

Another favorite is “The Would-Be Hero’s Voicemail,” combining the modern with the myth—a humorous imagining of the messages left by Sita or Perseus. “Odysseus, that crafty one, calls / from an unknown number, leaves a cryptic / message that I cannot bother to decode.” This type of genre mash-up can feel trite, but Jones merges delicate humor and modern cynicism into a complex whole.

There are a few missteps: some odd font fumbling, and a poem or two sitting askew from the rest of the empowering choices. Overall though, Jones’s take feels refreshing and authentic in what could be considered a glutted market bearing a similar theme—the edgy reclaiming of myth. She doesn’t strain toward an echo of violence in historical literature, but instead uses a voice of competent authority welling up from witches who know their business. This is a lens not often wielded effectively, and it makes this chapbook worth picking up.

These are gentle poetry forms with enchanting lines, nothing to jar or intimidate the reader. A casual chapbook that can be enjoyed over an afternoon, or turned to for inspiration when you feel like you need a bit of magic in your mundane. As she says in “Botany of a Warrior,” “Carve her name in black willow bark, / the wood swallowing her memory, / so she will be known for ages to come.”

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