Editor’s Note: This year, I am featuring one poet from Arcana: the Tarot Poetry Anthology each month. For November, Evelyn Deshane has generously submitted an essay on poetic adaptation and Tarot tattoos. Without further ado, I turn the blog over to Evelyn.
When I write poetry, I think of it as an adaptation process. One of my poetry teachers, Gordon Johnston, once told us that there were some poets who believed that the work was already out there, hanging in the air. The poet’s job was to find it and lay it down in the best way possible. This advice is quite similar to the way in which sculptors insist there is a masterpiece under the stone that they will find through carving. Something beautiful hides in everyday life and it’s our job as poets, artists, or writers to search it out and find it. We did not create it, not wholly or completely, but our own process of adaptation leads to something unique.
Adaptation, then, can become a process of finding oneself as one does the work. When I write poetry, I’m retelling stories I’ve overheard at coffee bars, or I’m updating myths to something modern. I’m not under any illusions that what I’m doing is brand new or unique (nothing ever is anymore), but I’m conscious about how I tell the story and what perspective or point of view I take. When I started to view my poetry as adaptation, I learned to go with my ideas, acknowledging that they come from other places, people, books, and practices later on. That way, I could let my mind spiral out like a mandala without worrying I’d become lost.
I decided to write about tarot cards because I was in the middle of a transformative period, and I turned to tarot cards as a way to process what had happened to me. I would try to do a weekly spread, and if I didn’t do that, I would write about the deck itself. I picked up books by Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell so I could understand the power that I could potentially hold in my hand. One of my girlfriends began painting tarot cards, so I started to sketch them in between reading spreads for my family and friends. I also began getting tattoos of tarot cards as a way to mark down each year’s progress. I currently have four main tarot card tattoos, one for each year I was in my undergrad, starting at age 19 and ending at 22.
My poem included in the collection, “The Chariot” is one of the many products of that time period. At its heart, the poem is about making a decision. I’ve left my own meaning vague, as all good poems and art remains, so that the reader can find whatever interpretation in it they’d like. And who knows, maybe they can adapt it for their own purpose, too.
As a sign off, I would like to share my tattoo of the Chariot tarot card.
There’s a lot of line-work going on here, deliberately to mimic the Rider Waite deck. In all four of my tarot pieces, there is one section shaded in yellow. For my Hermit tattoo, the light is yellow. For my Tower piece, it’s the lightning bolts. For my Death card, the sunrise over the hill. But the Chariot was different. It was my last card in this small symbolizing mission I had undergone, and since this particular card was about a decision I had to make, I decided to have three symbols shaded in yellow. So the moonbeams on his shoulders, the star in his chest, and the sun on his crown are all in colour. I wanted this to represent the fact that no choice is either/or. There are never just two options; sometimes there are three. Even if, as alchemists say, tertium non data–the third is not known, it can still be an option with patience and practice. There is no original; all is adaption.
Below is Evelyn’s poem that appears in the anthology:
golden hues, red and blue,
hanging from a canopy on a chariot
the charioteer, beside the wheels
is in a war and waiting for a race.
a good man knows his duty:
leaving his destiny malleable,
he steps behind the reigns.
with two great sphinxes before him,
he pulls back to be carried away.
to get from one place to another
in the darkest mystery of night
he accepts that the enemy is sleeping closely
and forgets his fear for faith.
with moonbeams on his shoulders
he bears the final weight of prophecy
two ways, two urges, two decisions
locked in one armoured body
to decide is a suicide of one fate.
while the stars stay exactly the same,
he constantly shifts and changes.
in the driest and most forbidden terrains,
he decides and makes a small sacrifice.
the only way to fight, but not give up life,
is to run parallel to the enemy
bound to be pushing you astray.
You can check out Evelyn’s bio–and the bios of the other poets in the book–on the Contributors Page.
And you can order Arcana: the Tarot Poetry Anthology on the publisher’s website.