I recently picked up Avra Margariti’s first poetry collection, The Saint of Witches, which was published in April 2022 by Weasel Press. Avra is a Greek creator of speculative poetry, and I’ve been a fan of her work for a couple years now. Avra’s speculative poetry has been published rather widely and been nominated for the Rhysling Award; we’ve even published some of her work over The Dread Machine!

The Saint of Witches collects about 70 speculative poems (only ~20 are reprints!), all with dark undertones. The description from the back:

In this dark poetry collection, witches escape stakes, wells, and other prisons with the help of their arcane saint. Girls dream of queer ghosts and carnivorous angels. Ghouls visit their lovers beyond the grave, while medical experiments seek a forever home. Bodies are dismantled and remade, despised and celebrated. Anti-heroines bare their blood-dripping teeth. In “The Saint of Witches”, there’s no telling who will sink, or swim.

The poems in The Saint of Witches deliver on these promises, and are of varied lengths and structures, which keeps the reading experience enjoyable and helps keep the manuscript from feeling monotonous.

As I read, I like to use Post-It tabs to bookmark poems I particularly enjoy so I can come back to them again. My favorites among Avra’s original poems in this collection were:

  • “Apres Moi” — I loved the vivid oceanic imagery in this piece, and the way Avra’s word choices conveyed the rhythm of the rolling waves, with gems like: “Gills slashed crevasses across my throat” and “I smiled wide, baring spiny beluga teeth“.
  • “Children Without a Sun” — A speculative poem set on a worldship, this piece captured me with the bleak setting, undercurrents of optimism, and my curiosity about the children’s “[…] own currency of blood oaths / and forbidden spells of sorcery” as “children without a sun are born / stunted from within / yet always stretching upward”.
  • “My Anatomy II” — More introspective than some of the other pieces in this collection, this poem is about the anxiety and tangible relief of finally having a hysterectomy: “Uterus excised like a peach plucked / from a tree, tubes tied cherry stems […] Won’t you be hollow after? they all ask me […] I picture birds flying weightless along thermals […] “.
  • “The Saint of Witches” — Usually, the titular poem doesn’t come at the end of a poetry collection (at least, among those I’ve read), but in this case, “The Saint of Witches” is the perfect choice for a closing poem. It weaves together thematic elements introduced and revisited throughout the book, and I’m a sucker for cult saints in speculative works: “[…] the only sound my blue-veined lips knew: / the prayer of her name / On the seventh night she came, Our Saint of Witches. / Her wax-warm mouth sealing over […]”
  • “Until You Reach Me” — This witchy poem is about forbidden queer love and magic that transcend hatred and death. The undercurrents of loss, frustration, hope, and defiance are palpable in this one: “[…] how tragic for the unwed / to be buried in white, for you and I to have come so close / to being each other’s / when the sheriffs crashed our ceremony […]” and “I ask the maggots, Have you seen my love? / as they eat their way through my cheeks / […] Mira, my saint of thieves, my guiding darkness.”

Overall, I enjoyed The Saint of Witches and recommend it to other fans of speculative poetry with dreadful notes, witchiness, and dark atmosphere. If you’re looking for a book of singsong rhyming, this isn’t the book for you. I tend to seek out poetry with emotional hooks, and I think this collection balances the more traditional speculative narratives with emotional resonance quite nicely.

In sum, Avra’s first collection doesn’t pull punches, features much luscious imagery. If you want a fix of dark magic, don’t skip The Saint of Witches!

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