Friday, October 13, 2017

Carrie Clickard: Jinxes and Hexes and Curses – oh my!

nebojsa mladjenovic

What good luck!

In celebration of Friday the 13th, Her Spookiness Carrie Clickard has returned today to share a fascinating collection of deviant poetry. Hold on to your heebie-jeebies, folks, it's going to be a nerve-jangling ride. (Parental discretion is advised.)

Jinxes and hexes and curses - oh my!

Did you get up this morning with that feeling of creeping dread that everything was going to go wrong? Maybe you touched wood before you got out of bed. Or perhaps you tucked a lucky acorn or buckeye into a pocket or slipped on your lucky charm bracelet? If you did, you’re not alone. It’s been estimated that 60 million people around the world will stay home today, just to avoid the bad luck of

What better day to talk about jinxes, curses 
and superstitions in poetry?

Now if you’re one of the masses who might be huddled under the covers today, or if, like me, you’re only a little nervous about the day, here’s the good news:

If you’re a dabbler in verse you don’t have to worry because as a poet, we have the power!

That’s right. Ancient Celts believed that bards could curse and cure with the power of their verse.  In fact there’s a version of the pied piper story in Ireland where a bard exterminates a rat infestation with just his rhyme. Now that’s serious jinx power.

It might have been his Irish blood that urged poet J. M. Synge to try his own hand at jinx poetry. When a sister of one of his rivals had the temerity to criticize Synge’s work, his dashed off this dastardly little ditty:

The Curse
Lord, confound this surly sister,
Blight her brow with blotch and blister,
Cramp her larynx, lung, and liver,
In her guts a galling give her.
Let her live to earn her dinners
In Mountjoy with seedy sinners:
Lord, this judgment quickly bring,
And I'm your servant, J. M. Synge.

History does not record if his jinx poem worked.  If it had, I’m thinking the history of literary criticism might have taken a very different course.

Now I don’t want to give the idea that curses in verse were exclusively Irish. Ancient Greek, Egyptian and Chinese verse has been found calling down evil on the heads of enemies. I have to say I sympathize just a bit with the medieval monk who cursed a cat that used his open manuscript for a litter box.  He immortalized his curse in the manuscript itself with a drawing of hands pointing to the stain and a latin verse that could loosely translate as:

Cursed be the pesty cat
and other mewling beasties that
urinate to make this horrid sight. 
And beware my brother scribes
to avoid the feline tribe’s
offense by closing well your books at night!

In a more recent and considerably darker vein, French poet Henri Michaux scribed an eerie jinx poem of his own, with the oddly mundane title of “I am rowing”.  Here’s just a taste:

I have cursed your forehead your belly your life

I have cursed the streets your steps plod through

the things your hands pick up

I have cursed the inside of your dreams

and a little later:
I have frozen you in the soul of your body

iced you in the depths of your life

the air you breathe suffocates you

the air you breathe has the air of a cellar

is an air that has already been exhaled

been puffed out by hyenas

By the time he reaches the repeated line near the end of the poem:
I am rowing

I am rowing

I am rowing against your life

The effect is truly chilling. You can read the whole poem here, if you dare.

If intentionally written curse poems aren’t enough to set your shivers going, what about a poem that itself is reportedly cursed? That’s right, we poets have earned our own urban legend, the deadly poem titled "Tomino’s Hell".  A dark set of stanzas imagining a young boy’s damnation for unspecified acts, the poem was written by Saijō Yaso and first published in 1919. Yaso’s work was supposedly for children, but it was filled with strange symbols and dark wordplay that many adults find unsettling. 

The poem came to modern attention after appearing in Japanese author Yomota Inuhiko‘s 1998 book The Heart is like a Rolling Stone.  Its creepy imagery made it a fan of Internet forums and Tomino’s Hell soon became a "dare game."  If you read the poem aloud, preferably on a video you could upload, you would die.  No recorded harm has happened to anyone as a result of the game, but who wants to risk it?  I, for one, would never even play “Bloody Mary” as a kid.  Blech, shudder and urgh.

If you do decide to risk it, here's a more recent translation with footnotes.

A “little stitious” might perfectly describe the Kenn Nesbitt poem I’d like to leave you contemplating.  With his typical witty wordplay, Kenn reminds us that there isn’t just one day we should beware of. 

It's Friday the 13th Tomorrow

It’s Friday the 13th tomorrow.

A black cat just leapt in my path.

I’m not superstitious, but this might

explain why I’m failing in math.

By chance I walked under a ladder

a teacher had placed by the wall.

In class my umbrella popped open,

and that’s why I tripped in the hall.

The salt spilled this morning at breakfast.

While walking I stepped on a crack.

I took off my shoes on the table.

It looks like my future is black.

This evening I busted a mirror

which means that the next seven years

are due to be filled with misfortune,

catastrophes, mishaps and tears.

With all the bad luck I’m confronting,

it seems that I’m probably cursed.

It may be the 13th tomorrow.

But Thursday the 12th is the worst.

           – Kenn Nesbitt 
                Found on and reprinted with permission of the author

That’s how I like my curses and jinxes, mixed with a healthy dose of silly good humor.  I hope you can say the same.  Wishing all of you good luck and fun on this notoriously unlucky day!

Thank you for such an enlightening and spine-chilling post, Carrie!
I think I'll return to my covers now.

Read Carrie's rhyme crime series HERE, her spotlight interview HERE, and don't forget to submit your poem about a person, place, or thing that spooked you as a child for this month's DMC challenge. This week featured poems by Jessica Bigi and Janie Lazo. The padlet is ready to greet you...  bwah-hah-hah!

Carrie L. Clickard is an internationally published author and poet, with books published by Simon & Schuster, Holiday House and Flashlight Press.  Her poetry and short stories have appeared in numerous anthologies and periodicals as well including Spider, Muse, Highlights, Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, Havok, Myriad Lands, Clubhouse, Spellbound, Penumbra, Haiku of the Dead, and Underneath the Juniper Tree.

Irene Latham is hosting a Friday the 13th edition of the Poetry Friday roundup at Live Your Poem. See you there! ...and try not to walk under any ladders along the way.


  1. This is fiendishly fun! Thanks Carrie

  2. Who knew curses could be such fun! That rowing poem reminds me of the threat I used to make to my students--that I would haunt their worst nightmares if they didn't do their work. Now I know what I did wrong. I should of put it in verse!

  3. "I am rowing" seems like a legitimate curse to me.
    (I've posted before about ancient Irish bards and how it was actually illegal to use your "poetic powers" against someone.)
    I'll try to write something for the padlet!

  4. Fun and fascinating. That rowing poem gives me the heebie jeebies . . . thanks for the post, Carrie!

  5. This is a lot of creepy fun -- perfect for a Friday the 13th in October. I loe Ken Nesbitt's poem. Thanks for the post.

  6. I love each part, especially since I wrote about superstitions today, & the bad luck coming from them. But listening to that one and you die, Wow! Kenn's is about as far as I could get. Our drama teacher at my school did a Shakespeare play every few years, and the part the kids loved was when they learned the curses, and wrote some of their own, very fun! Thanks, Carrie and Michelle!

  7. I have goosebumps from these bold and imaginative curses:
    "the air you breathe has the air of a cellar

    is an air that has already been exhaled
been puffed out by hyenas"

    Seriously?! That is some foul air!

  8. Fun, funner, funnest! Really, that was some cool poetry power. I'm with Violet, the air of cellar gives me chills. I know that air. It's creepy! Thank you, Carrie for the wonderful visits. I am now an official fan.

  9. What a super fun post...history of superstition and poetry rolled into one!

  10. It has always been my belief that since FRIDAY is good and THIRTEEN is bad, they cancel each other out. MONDAY the THIRTEENTH is the worst of the worst for me!

  11. Carrie and Michelle, I've added my creeped out poem to the padlet using the Tetractys form I learned over on Kat Apel's blog. I'm featuring my practice tetractys on my blog next week and highlight both of you and Kat.

  12. Fascinating. The pen can certainly lacerate and the wounds survive the grave.

  13. Thanks for this spooky assortment of curses Carrie, what a good idea for another October poem! I did venture out on the 13th, and fortunately am here to read this fun blog post by you and Michelle, thank you both–watch out for steam emitting anywhere this month one never knows what might be lurking there …

  14. Kenn Nesbitt is one of my poetry idols, so it's a treat (not a trick!) to see his witty verse here. Glad we all survived Thursday the 12th *and* Friday the 13th!