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Book Review: “Useless Magic” by Florence Welch

9/10 stars

Useless Magic: Lyrics and Poetry, a book published in July 2018, combines two of my favorite things: poetry and Florence Welch, better known as Florence + the Machine. My angsty middle school self instantly fell in love with Florence’s fascinating, eerie aesthetic.  As a testament to her musical prowess, in the years since I have been able to return to her music over and over again without finding it cringey or over-the-top like I did with a lot of the media I consumed as a middle schooler. Individual songs—my favorites are “Cosmic Love,” “No Light, No Light,” and “Kiss With a Fist”—are all memorable and unique, but it’s also fun to put her entire discography on shuffle, close your eyes, and let yourself be consumed in images of galaxies and forests and whatever other kinds of magic Florence Welch sings about.

Fair warning, Useless Magic is 70-80% song lyrics, which you could easily look up online yourself. However, I ended up reading the entire book in one sitting, highlighting the lyrics most memorable to me and trying to sing them to myself, because just reading all the lyrics, all at once in one long unbroken stream was such an incredible experience, like entering Welch’s own fantastical universe that she’s weaved, for herself and for you.

A falling star fell from your heart and landed in my eyes


I screamed aloud, as it tore through them, and now it’s left me blind

The stars, the moon, they have all been blown out

You left me in the dark


No dawn, no day, I’m always in this twilight


In the shadow of your heart

-Lyrics from “Cosmic Love”

Her various doodles, though occasionally hard to decipher, are a wonderful addition to the book and make it feel unique; and not just all of her lyrics were copy-and-pasted into a document that she decided to call a book. She also includes several works of art, my favorite being Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss. I’d never thought of pairing Klimt with Florence’s lyrics, but when I was reading the book, it made sense, because they both have that ethereal, dreamlike style.

Many of Florence’s doodles are where her songs began to form as simple little scribbles of potential lyrics or titles on wrinkled sheets of paper. One that particularly touched me was this piece of paper accompanying the lyrics to her song “Grace,” which is Florence’s apology to her younger sister, Grace, for not being a better older sister as they were growing up, and in particular for ruining more than one of Grace’s birthdays.

In the preface of Useless Magic, Florence admits, “I don’t know what makes a song a song and a poem a poem: they have started to bleed into each other at this stage.” And while I’d happily call her songs poems any day, Useless Magic does actually include a few original poems by Florence. Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy them as much. They lack the vivid, unique imagery of her songs and read more like half-formulated sentiments than poems. Florence Welch could definitely be an amazing poet someday, though—she has incredible writing ability, she just needs to hone it a bit when she’s writing her poetry.

Also, if you pick up the book, check out the index of first lines at the end. They’re poems in themselves.

I’m excited for Florence to continue working on her career, and hopefully this won’t be the last poetry collection she releases—I’ll definitely listen to and/or read anything she puts out in the future, and I can’t wait to do a reread of this book as I play each and every song, one by one.

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Caroline Mao

Mt Holyoke '22

She/her or they/them, class of 2022, Mount Holyoke prospective studio art and computer science major who enjoys reading and petting dogs.
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