Editor’s Note: Each month, I’m featuring a different poet from Arcana: the Tarot Poetry Anthology here on the blog. For July, Ruth Baumann talks about how grad school introduced her to Tarot, the process of intuitive creation, and making impossibility possible.
I was introduced to tarot when I began graduate school in Memphis. Several of the poets in the MFA program here used tarot as a means of divination & inspiration, & as I’m always looking for both, I was intrigued. A friend bought me my first deck after I’d learned the rudiments of the cards (the difference between major & minor arcana, the fundamentals of each suit). I began with just pulling a card a day for internal guidance, which taught me the general messages of the individual cards, & had graduated to full readings by the end of my first year.
I’ve had so many tarot poems published because my thesis became a full manuscript of tarot poems. The Possible is a collection of poems based on cards arranged in semi-possible spreads, seeking to tell a semi-fractured narrative, seeking to make impossibility possible.
Q: The Possible—especially in conjunction with the Tarot suit of swords—reminds me of the Possible Sword from Mieville’s book The Scar. Would you be willing to talk a little more about how cards inspire your work? For instance, do you look at multiple cards or just one card when writing a poem (or vary between the two options in your process)? What deck(s) do you use?
For The Possible, I wrote each poem based on a single card—but only from the major arcana. (I wanted to be as dramatic as possible!) I pulled cards on occasion, but usually I would just feel in the mood to write one—some weeks were full of The Tower, but others (happily) full of The Fool, etc. After a while, I wrote them based solely on what I felt like writing, rather than what I pulled. Many of the sections close with The Fool, which was an intentionally extra-open ending. The deck I use was given to me by a friend several years ago, a deck of cat tarot… but since combining resources with my boyfriend, we now claim three decks in the household: a Quantum Tarot deck as well as an Aleister Thoth Tarot deck.
Q: One similarity I’ve noticed between poetry and Tarot is that some practitioners of both arts believe they should be intuitive while others advocate for intensive study. As a recent MFA graduate and PhD student, what are some of your thoughts about intensive study of arts vs. intuitive creation?
Creation is a channeling, & all channeling is intuitive. I learn best by a sort of osmosis, by immersing myself in a community of writers & people equally passionate about writing, & reading everything I can find: not necessarily to study it or dissect it, but just to let it seep into some corner of my brain where whatever’s necessary gets regurgitated later, in a new form. Tarot is similar to poetry, I believe, in that it is an inkblot, whether you like it or not: it shows where you’re at internally, consciously &, when practiced well, subconsciously.
Intensive study is always necessary to learn the rules, to learn the guidelines for any art, but the actual act of creation comes from intensive study plus life experience plus unconscious absorption of art/ your environment plus the willingness to be open to whatever needs to be channeled. What I’m trying to say is that intensive study is just one aspect of all the ingredients necessary to reach the goal of intuitive creation.
Q: As someone who has edited a literary journal (The Pinch), how would you compare collecting creative writing with collecting visual art like the Tarot? Do you feel that editing a book is like curating an art exhibition?
I’d imagine curating an art exhibition is similar to putting together a literary journal—the pieces not only have to be amazing, but they all have to flow together in some loose emotional narrative. Editing a book is the same way: the structure itself is the ultimate poem. It’s my belief that the order of a manuscript is the spine & the heart of the manuscript, & takes into consideration all elements, including how the poems look visually on the page, as well as their emotional / linguistic content.
In this way, collecting creative writing must mirror collecting visual art. All art speaks to other art, & all collected art must be speaking with & to the art it lies with. That’s what’s so fun about putting together a chapbook or a full manuscript, for me: taking the poems & turning them into larger poems by association.
Q: What advice do you have for other poets/Tarotists, especially other young artists?
Continue seeking, always. Keep looking for what you suspect will make you whole, & find a way to take the scattered pieces from within you & let them arrange themselves into art. In terms of Tarot, I’m interested in Tarot as a vehicle for guidance & as a muse, & I’d suggest that Tarotists remain open to this channel as well as whatever other channels come their way.
Below is Ruth’s poem that will be featured in the anthology:
You can read Ruth’s bio–and the bios of the other poets in the book–on the Contributors Page.
Also, you can learn more about Ruth on her website.
Arcana: the Tarot Poetry Anthology can be pre-ordered through the Minor Arcana Press website.