Tag Archives: ekphrasis

Featured Poet: Shloka Shankar

Editor’s note: This year, I am featuring one poet from Arcana: the Tarot Poetry Anthology each month. For August, Shloka Shankar shares how she began writing poems based on the Tarot as well as discusses her love of found poetry and ekphrasis.

Q: You mentioned that “The Fool’s Dog” is your first Tarot poem. How did you become interested in the Tarot?

ShlokaI’ve always been fascinated by horoscopes and strongly believe in compatibility of zodiac signs and the like. My interest in Tarot was kindled when I first came cross the call for submissions from Arcana. Learning new forms/genres of writing and experimenting with the written word has been my foremost passions. I did a little research, started making notes for the cards that most interested me, and the result was “The Fool’s Dog”.

Q: I’m so happy you ventured into the world of Tarot because of our call for submissions! Would you be willing to say a little more about your experiments with writing? Have you written any zodiac-inspired poems? What are some of your favorite forms/genres of poetry?

Sure. I started writing poetry in my twentieth year, and they were largely dark, bleak, and sorrowful at best. I was introduced to Japanese short-forms in the winter of 2013 and since then, I’ve written a few hundred haiku, tanka, senryu, haibun, and haiga. As part of The Found Poetry Review’s National Poetry Writing Month in April 2015, I took part in their PoMoSco project and fell head over heels in love with found poetry, mostly erasures, remixing, and conceptual writing experiments including flarf. More recently, I’ve been dabbling in asemic writing.

Q: What is the Tarot scene like in India? Is it a popular form of divination and creative inspiration? Are other forms of divination more popular?

Tarot is quite popular in India. But I think astrology and palmistry still continue to hold sway over many a household.

Q: Personally, I tend to prefer Tarot decks that feature diverse people (especially women of color), like the Wizards Tarot and the Goddess Tarot. As an Indian woman, how do you feel about representation in Tarot art? What deck(s) do you use?

My knowledge of Tarot is rather limited to a little research on the Internet, and to the names of a few cards. It is interesting to take into account a sort of feminist reading (if I can label it that) of these decks. I would definitely like to learn more about the Wizards Tarot and the Goddess Tarot. Sadly, I’m not well-versed in Tarot reading and don’t possess a deck (yet).

Q: For your literary journal, Sonic Boom, you seek experimental and visual poetry as well as formal poetry (like haiku). How would you compare Tarot poetry with other forms of visual poetry?

Great question! I think Tarot poetry becomes, in one sense, a kind of Ekphrasis. The Tarot card and the poem complement each other in such a way, where neither is reduced to a mere descriptive exercise. I would say that the sum is greater than its parts, and Tarot poetry is definitely exhilarating in its multiple readings and interpretations. I hope Sonic Boom publishes a few Tarot inspired pieces in future!

Below is Shloka’s poem that will appear in the anthology:

The Fool’s Dog

Caught between the two worlds
of a nebulous beginning
and an inevitable end,
the Fool in me succumbs to vices.

Jung’s archetypes echo in my head
as the Eight of Wands casts dark shadows
in my subconscious, chained to lethargy.

A reversed Death card looks up
as I swim in a cesspool of whining;
the Wheel of Fortune spins and stops abruptly:
Change no longer in my grasp.

The King of Swords emerges
from his chrysalis, while I,
still flightless, move listlessly.

Ruled by the Lovers,
My mind is now subsumed
by confusions of the darkest kind;
the Gemini in me lurches forward.

The Ace of Cups spills over
and leaves only this emptiness.


You can hear Shloka recite her poem in the Listening Corner and read her bio on the Contributors Page.

Also, you can find more information on Shloka Shankar: a rasika’s musings and on her blog. And don’t forget to check out her literary & arts journal, Sonic Boom.

Please consider pre-ordering Arcana: the Tarot Poetry Anthology on the Minor Arcana Press website!


What the heck is ekphrasis anyway?

Learning the meaning of ekphrasis will not only allow you to impress people at cocktail parties with your awesome vocabulary, but it will also help you understand the link between Tarot and poetry, which can improve your reading of both. Furthermore, this technique can be used when writing your own Tarot poems.

One of my favorite resources is The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry & Poetics because I worked for a professor who was one of the assistant editors. It says ekphrasis is a:

detailed description of an image, primarily visual; in specialized form, limited to a description of a work of visual art.

The word comes from the Greek language, and in ancient Greece, ekphraseis (the plural form of the word) were used to help people remember long speeches.

UrnHomer’s description of Achilles’ shield in the Iliad is one of the oldest examples of this technique used in poetry. A more recent example of ekphrasis is Ode on a Grecian Urn by John Keats, which describes the scene painted on a piece of pottery. (Musical theater fans may remember the Grecian Urn scene from Music Man.)

Most poems about Tarot describe the visual art of the card, although the level of detail and kind of detail vary widely. So, most Tarot poetry can be loosely classified as ekphrasis. A collection of Tarot poems is a like a gallery of paintings—the reader is the art lover walking through the exhibition.

One can use Tarot poetry like the ancient Greeks, to help with memorizing the cards as if they were a long speech; the art helps map out a narrative. People who are more language-oriented than image-oriented (who think in words instead of pictures) can learn about Tarot art with the aid of poetry.

I recommend writing your own Tarot poems using this technique. Here are some tips for writing ekphrastic (one of the cool things about this word is that it can be used as an adjective) poetry:

-Consider poetry as painting; your words should paint a picture for the reader (Horace called this ut pictura poesis).

-Consider the many different elements of art, such as color, perspective, background/foreground, symmetry/asymmetry, sharpness/softness, movement/stillness, etc.

-Try to make your descriptions unique; draw from your own ideas and experiences when describing the image to avoid clichés.

-Treat writing as a magical act; use your own rituals to begin and end ekphrasis.