Foreword Clarion Review
As explained here, illuminated poetry is the term for illustrated poetry, and alchemy “simply means the art of transformation.” Through seven different steps, Michaels presents a guide to what she calls “poem-mandalas,” drawings and poetry that she makes with her left, non-dominant hand. The process is like “spiritual alchemy,” which she says “is above all about inner transformation.”
The lessons begin with the presentation of “Prima Materia,” or a personal moment or concept that has meaning to the practitioner and also serves as the foundational core of the work. Michaels suggests writing down a prima materia each day and working to simply observe as the poetry “spills out of you.”
Michaels jumps into the process by instructing with the universal “we” and “us,” bridging the gap between teacher and students. This creates seasoned, easy-to-understand language to help guide newcomers through the complex topics covered in the book.
Throughout the seven steps, amid a game plan for transcendent and visionary poetry, Michaels shares a series of “Facets.” The facets are small historical or logistical anecdotes that provide the collection of lessons with a loose narrative presence.
Whether through a mini-biography of Maria Prophetissa or a brief contemplation of the limitations of time, the facets are another testament to the book’s intention to educate and enlighten, more than anything else.
Michaels provides samples of personal poems and mandalas and even builds up to an innovative verse of her own creation, “Xoem.” This blend between the personal and professional provides the ultimate teaching experience and helps connect each step that is needed to create illuminated poetry.
In the seventh and final step, “Personal Gold,” Michaels draws on a popular alchemy ideal: “The alchemists’ quest to turn lead into gold, though certainly pursued by many, was also a metaphor for refinement of the self to attain one’s Personal Gold.”
As the book constantly reinforces, this lead-to-gold transformation is the product of continuous practice and an eternal curiosity.
With The Alchemy of Illuminated Poetry®, Xianna Michaels has created a master class experience on the art and science of illustrated poetry. The intricate brown-and-gold packaging is reason enough to pick up the book, but the written and illustrated artwork within is what makes this such an intriguing read.
This beautifully produced work from Michaels (Lily of the Valley, 2016, etc.) encourages one to embark on a modern-day, metaphorical version of the medieval alchemists’ quest to turn base metals into gold. One may refine oneself, the author says, to “attain one’s Personal Gold.” She breaks down the mechanics of this “mystical, magical, meditative process” into seven steps, which she says that a reader may unlock with an unexpected method: writing poetry with his or her nondominant hand. Michaels claims that such untutored writing forces one to draw on the intuitive, emotional right side of the brain, using what she refers to as the “Prima Materia” of one’s creativity. In this way, she says, one may achieve a deeper understanding of self and, ultimately, a closer connection to God. In brisk, evocative prose, Michaels systematically lays out the details of each of the steps, such as “Self-Purification,” “Preparation,” and “Distillation,” even down to specifics of location and time of day. She knows that readers will be initially skeptical, especially considering how little success most people have in doing finely controlled work with their nondominant hand: “how can anything of value come from what must surely be indecipherable squiggles?” she imagines such readers asking, but she assures them to trust in the process. Whether or not readers achieve any success with its method, the book’s romantically charged language about poetry and personal investment is extremely contagious and oddly encouraging. Overall, it’s an effective invitation to write and explore one’s creativity: “You are the alchemist of your life,” she writes in a typically upbeat passage, “and your laboratory awaits.” The consistent messages of self-discovery and patience will appeal to many readers, regardless of their alchemical disposition.
A colorfully written guide to entering the “Inner Sanctum” of one’s creativity.