Editor’s note: This year, I am featuring one contributor from the anthology on the blog each month. May’s poet is the incomparable CAConrad, who discusses (Soma)tic poetics, sexy Tarot classes, and Tarot readings.
Q: Your piece for the anthology is a (Soma)tic poetry ritual. Would you be willing to talk about (soma)tic poetics? How do these rituals link Tarot and poetry in your practice?
Thank you so much, I’m very excited to be in the anthology and grateful that such an anthology now exists in the world. Tarot came into my life before (Soma)tic poetry, but years later poetry and tarot came together for me the way we want all the things we love to come together. I received Penny Slinger’s tarot deck The Secret Dakini Oracle when I turned 18 on January 1st, 1984. I was reading through diagram spreads in the book and finding my way around both the idea of interpreting and how to do it. Then on my 19th birthday my friends threw a drag show party for me and I met an older trans person named Peppy. We called her Queen of the New Age Drag Queens. She had a beautiful tattoo of the Eye of Horus on her back and an apartment filled with Isis statues and a cat named Bast who hated all guests but me. When Bast jumped into my lap and began purring the first time I met him Peppy was convinced it was a sign that I should be her protégé in magic. Bast would claw and bite other visitors, but his love for me made for a strange entrance into a new part of my life. I learned a lot from Peppy about tarot, especially to compound the information by reading the cards in a circular spread through the zodiac. I still find this to be one of the most useful spreads, keeping 90% of the reading in the present. The present is all that matters, and tarot can help shed light on what actions are needed to help us walk into the future we are wanting.
I’m not a psychic reader so in the trade I am what we call “tool heavy” because I rely on my skills as a tarot interpreter, trusting the cards will guide us. I have given thousands of tarot readings over the past 31 years using the same deck, in fact my poems and the tarot cards are the only things still in my life from 1984. While other boys were in mechanic school I was in tarot class spread naked on the bed with Peppy where we would spend most of our time during tarot class looking at one card at a time. When I would merge with a card, when I would finally GET IT, Peppy would lean over and start to kiss me. She would say, “Time to reward you for learning and time to reward myself for teaching.”
My bigger initiation with Peppy came when she was preparing for surgery to become the woman she had always dreamed of. She asked me to create a ritual around being the last person to jerk her penis off before it was snipped off. This was a lot of pressure, but Peppy assured me whatever I chose would be fine with her. She believed she was giving me an occult initiation into adulthood by letting me be the last one to have sex with her before she became a woman. I went to the fabric store and purchased a square of red felt. I cut it into the shape of a heart where I deposited Peppy’s semen, then I placed the cum-soaked heart in an earthen pot with dirt and an amethyst crystal, then a spider plant with THE HIGH PRIESTESS card glued to the front of the pot. In Penny Slinger’s deck THE HIGH PRIESTESS card is the goddess Isis, She who puts the dead back together. Months later Peppy knocked on my door with a baby spider plant in a little pot and said, “Here, you’re its papa.” I have no idea what happened to that plant, but I still have the tarot cards and the knowledge from dear Peppy who died of AIDS over twenty years ago.
I met Peppy after first moving to Philadelphia to be a writer. Growing up in a rural factory town I watched my creative family extend the grind of their monotonous jobs outside the factory walls and into their lives until they were no longer capable of accessing their artistic abilities. The factory essentially divorced them from their sense of their essential selves. This wouldn’t happen to me, I thought, and moved to a large city to foster my skills as an artist and to surround myself with likeminded people. For many years this was feeling right, that I was doing exactly what I came to do, not working in the factory back home.
But in 2005 when visiting my family for a reunion I listened again to their stories about the factory, and as always these stories saddened me. On the train ride home I had an epiphany that I had been treating my poetry like a factory, an assembly line, and doing so in many different ways, from how I constructed the poems, to my tabbed and sequenced folders for submissions to magazines, etc. This was a crisis, and I stopped writing for nearly a month, needing to figure out how to climb out of these factory-like structures, or to quit writing altogether. But I wanted to thrive in the crisis rather than end the trajectory of self-discovery the poems had set me on over the years. One morning I made a list of the worst problems with the factory, and at the top of that list was “lack of being present.” The more I thought about this the more I realized this was what the factory robbed my family of the most, and the thing that frightened me the most, this not being aware of place in the present.
That morning I started what I now call (Soma)tics, ritualized structures where being anything but present was next to impossible. These rituals create what I refer to as an “extreme present” where the many facets of what is around me wherever I am can come together through a sharper lens. It has been inspiriting that (Soma)tics reveal the creative viability of everything around me. My new book ECODEVIANCE: (Soma)tic for the Future Wilderness (Wave Books, 2014) contains 23 new (Soma)tic rituals and their resulting poems. Rituals like speaking with ghosts, talking with trees through crystals and having psychic conversations with dogs on the street.
My (Soma)tic ritual and resulting poem published in the tarot anthology is one where I read tarot to meat in the grocery story. The dead do speak, and meat is as much the dead as any other expired body.
Q: It’s been said that Tarot is a “poor man’s psychiatrist.” Because your work often deals with issues of class, I would be interested in hearing your opinions about readerships. Do you think Tarot is more popular than poetry in poor/working class communities? Do you see a lot of overlap between Tarot readers and readers of poetry? What other thoughts do you have about readerships and class?
My tarot clients have often been wealthy people, and that is the case for many of the places I have been. Most of the time I have lived in Philadelphia and the bulk of those clients wanted boring intrigues revealed, like, is a spouse cheating. I would come recommended and many of these people would be impatient when I explained that my readings are heavily focused on the present. I would begin with Aries and work my way around to Pisces, but by the time I hit Gemini they were hooked. With this group of privileged people I would always have to tell them that they should take notes and that they were allowed only one follow-up phone call, otherwise they would call as often as they liked. One woman would bring her maid to take notes, which was weird and during the readings she would use a rather imperious tone when asking the maid if she was getting all of the information. I secretly gave the maid free readings on her days off.
In the mid 1990’s I was in school for healing herbs in Albuquerque, trying anything I could to help save my boyfriend Tommy who eventually died of AIDS. But to make money I would read tarot in Santa Fe which is only an hour or so away. Those rich people were very different, much more open to my readings being mostly focused on the present. When I worked for a big psychic hotline company as a telephone tarot reader it was so depressing. I finally quit when a person said if the reading didn’t turn out she was going to kill herself. I lied. I never lie about a reading, but I lied and kept her on the phone for as long as I could. She said, “You’re lying,” and hung up, and I have no idea what happened after that, but I was officially finished reading for people who were not sitting in front of me.
For me the overlap tarot makes with poetry is my focus on the present. There are times I am writing inside a (Soma)tic ritual and think of a tarot spread or a particular card. And when I am doing tarot I often think of poetry but that is because I think about poetry all the time. Bringing them together in a tarot ritual for your anthology was natural, and felt beautiful. Another (Soma)tic poetry ritual where I used tarot is titled CALLING ACROSS THE WATERMELON FIELD FOR YOU. I read tarot to paintings by my friend Yuh-Shioh Wong in order to find them titles for a gallery show she was having in San Francisco. Different fresh herbs were worn in my hair like dill for the god Mercury and I used a crystal called Spirit Quartz, also called Cactus Quartz, a crystal cluster whose each large shaft is covered in miniature crystals and is known to be one of the ultimate crystals for collaboration. We were both happy with the painting titles that came out of the ritual, titles like, “writing the letter of your life in the clearing,” and “bending the muscle of light,” and “the horns in the distance when we leave for the mountains,” twenty-one in all.
You can read CAConrad’s poem that will be included in the anthology here: Conrad TAROT AS VERB 9
To learn more about CAConrad, visit: http://caconrad.blogspot.com/
Also, check out CAConrad’s bio–and bios of other poets in the anthology–on the Contributors page.