Tag Archives: featured poet

Featured Poet: Evan J. Peterson

Editor’s Note: This month is the final installment of the Featured Poets Series. Next year, the blog will include essays written by myself and other contributors from Arcana: the Tarot Poetry Anthology as well as a new letter series. December’s featured poet is Evan J. Peterson, who discusses why the queer community loves Tarot, Tarot in pop culture, and creating his own Tarot poetry and deck.

Q: In addition to contributing poems to the anthology, you are also editor-in-chief of its
publisher, Minor Arcana Press. How did Tarot and writing become intertwined in your
poetry and in your non-profit company?

IMG_0502The Tarot is utterly fascinating. Even the medium of cards–I’ve always loved cards as a talismanic object. The Tarot is a muse for my writing, but it’s also a tool I use to influence my writing, prompt new strategies, etc. When I co-founded Minor Arcana Press, my former business partner and I both had a Tarot fascination. I was studying the cards deeply at the time, and so as the creative director I used the card iconography for branding as well as a way of communicating to other Tarotists. I’d always wanted to do a book like Arcana, and when we saw that you were putting this together, we said, “we need to move and acquire this manuscript now!”

Q: My anecdotal experience has been that a large number of queer folks love the Tarot.
Do you agree? Would you be willing to share your thoughts on why the Tarot is
prominent in the LGBT community or why you disagree?

I absolutely agree. I think there are several overlapping reasons. Tarot is something intriguing and rather fabulous, plus it’s feared by many religious people. Queer people, myself included, often pursue magic, occultism, and divination as a spiritual path after feeling unwelcome in other spiritual philosophies. I wasn’t raised Christian, and my family are very cool about me being queer, but I grew up in a Florida community full of meddling, holier-than-thou zealots. I’m too rad for one gender, and there was a lot of social pressure to lose my femininity. I love that Paganism and occultism often celebrate queer genders and sexualities as powerful and magically rich. The idea of the two-spirit, the human who can transverse the physical and spirit worlds as they transverse genders, has been in many pre-colonized cultures around the world. Tarot is an altar for me. My own Paganism is not much Druidic or Wiccan, far more Roman meets Lakota and other non-European traditions.

Q: When I visited Seattle for the launch party, you mentioned that your family is
multi-denominational. Would you feel comfortable exploring a connection between this
and the eclectic nature of the Tarot? For instance, does growing up with more than one
religious tradition make it easier to recognize symbols from different faiths that appear
on Tarot cards?

IMG_0085I grew up with a practicing Jewish mother, a recovering Methodist father, and a more devoutly Methodist sister. My dad’s side is partly Cherokee, and we were encouraged to explore various indigenous tribal traditions as well as New Age stuff. As long as I wasn’t worshipping Satan, conjuring ghosts, or using magic to hurt people, I was allowed to explore. I’ve also always been enraptured with ancient Egyptian culture. Seeing so much Egyptian, Hebrew, and witchy iconography in the Rider/Waite and Thoth decks was definitely a draw for me. However, as I work to map out my own original deck, I find that I’m disinterested in using formulaic Kabbalah, astrology, and Druidic/Arthurian iconography. It’s still cross-cultural though. You’ll find Kali, Anansi, Narcissus, Lilith, and my boygirlfriend the Baphomet in there.

Q: In addition to the Rider-Waite-Smith and Thoth, are there other decks–or art–that have influenced your deck/poetry? Do you seek out cross-cultural/queer/alternative decks? What makes a deck (or esoteric art) appealing to you?

A deck appeals to me when it touches something beyond the overt, beyond the simple 1:1 formula of metaphor. I want to taste the mystery in the images. I want it to make me feel things that I can’t express easily in words. The ultimate deck for me is Marie White’s Mary-El Tarot. It jacks into the unconscious so powerfully, beyond Jung, beyond surrealism. That’s the real magic–this shifting map of soft territory. I actually dislike the Rider-Waite deck. I think it’s inscrutable rather than deep. The deck I use the most often is actually rather overt and explicit in its symbolism–the Cosmic Tribe deck. I love it because it’s very queer, complete with three versions of the Lovers card for different gender combinations. I also love how naked and earthy the figures are–they seem so naturally powerful. So yes, even my taste in decks is contradictory. Such is the sacred paradox.

Q: Back in 2014, we did a #TarotChat on Twitter where we very briefly discussed Tarot imagery being popularized in Bond films and the X-Files. Would you talk a little more about pop culture and Tarot? Is Tarot a good medium for breaking down the high art/low art boundary? What do you think of how Tarot is represented in film/TV/etc?

IMG_1046Having grown up where I did, where many superstitious people are frightened of the Tarot, I tend to think of the Tarot as a cheap punchline in pop culture. It’s as profane in pop culture as making Superman assume the Crucifixion pose. It’s something people look at and think: “Now I should be moved.” I think Tarot can be a good medium for breaking down the high/low boundary, but so are graffiti and tattoo art. I’m seeing a great many young people getting reinterested in occultism through art and entertainment. We’re seeing that occult renaissance in hiphop, fashion, etc. Perhaps we need to make some of the sacred into profane in order to interest people in finding out what it’s really about. Tarot itself, like the individual images, can be interpreted in several ways. Is it a silly parlor game turned into sacred object? Is it an occult tradition made into a pop New Age collectible? What if it’s all of the above? I like the both/and, but I’m a trickster spirit by nature.

Below is one of Evan’s poems from Arcana: the Tarot Poetry Anthology:

Ode to God
Ace of Wands

Roast me,
O God,
like a duck
sucked tight
in my own
hot fat.

Make me
mead, ambrosia,
my honey
in Your mouth.

Sun drip,
thousand drops
of gold,
place each letter
of your Solar

onto this tongue.
Master Lightning,
brighten this body,
blast it,
blow it,
pluck my limbs

quick with
Make me a Grail,
cupful of God,
catching You,
feeding You back

to Your Self.
Peel me
like a cypress
switch & rub
me down
with oil,

rose, rosemary,
cold-pressed olive.
Thy rod,
thy branch,
thy slithering staff,
thy spray

of glittering
I, Ganymede,
I, Hyacinth:
have me, God,
to slip down

and down
and down
your golden

You can learn more about Evan on the Contributors Pagehis website, and his Twitter.

And you can order the anthology on the Minor Arcana Press website.

Featured Poet: Rozonda Salas

Editor’s Note: This year, I am featuring one poet from Arcana: the Tarot Poetry Anthology each month. For October, Rozonda Salas shares what it’s like to be a professional Tarot reader in Spain, her love for singer/songwriter Paddy McAloon, and how she composes poetry.

Q: As someone who has been studying the Tarot for over twenty years, what initially drew you to the cards—how did your passion begin? What was your first Tarot deck?                    blogpic

It was by mere chance–some would say it was fate! One day I was walking down a street of my neighbourhood–I was maybe 19 years old–and I spotted a bookshop which was doing a big clearance sale. At the shop window I saw a Tarot deck—it was marked really cheap, maybe about the equivalent of two dollars. It was El Gran Tarot Esoterico by Spanish card company Heraclio Fournier, a very strange and fascinating Marseille-type deck. I didn’t know that at the time–I had heard about Tarot but knew next to nothing about it, but I was intrigued and I decided to buy it. I started learning with the deck’s little white book and doing readings for myself and my friends, and found I loved it and was not bad at it, so I continued learning–I bought more decks, and books, did a few correspondence courses-that was before the internet–and met a few enthusiasts like me. Then I discovered the Rider-Waite deck, I fell in love and I never looked back. From 1999, when I got the Internet, it was much easier to learn and discover about the Tarot, so that helped too.

Q: I’m very interested in hearing about your experiences working as a Tarot reader. You mentioned you started reading professionally seven years ago. What made you decide to go pro? And what is your daily routine like?

You know, it’s funny because I had always wanted to go pro as a Tarot reader but I thought it was unrealistic of me. I worked as an English translator and teacher–at a given moment I had two jobs at the same time: as a translator for a software company and as a teacher at an academy. But back in 2007 recession hit Spain and, one after the other, my contracts were discontinued and I was jobless. I was already working for an online parlour doing email readings in my free time–I got paid very little–and doing them on my own on my tarot blog too, at very small prices. Then the number of readings started to grow and grow and by the time the online parlour closed down I didn’t care, because I had so many readings on my own. My friends were already saying “you should do this for a living, you know” but what really made me decide was my dad’s opinion. He’s an elderly gentleman in his 80s, a staunch Catholic who never really liked me doing Tarot, but he is also a very shrewd accountant, and it was him who said “you’re good at this, you can make good money, people come to you–you should go full pro” I thought: “if he, who dislikes Tarot, sees a future for me in this, I should try at least!“ And I did.

My daily routine? Well, it’s simple–I get up at seven and I do email readings, written and audio, until my father, who lives with me, wakes up at about ten, I take care of him, do housework and stuff, and in the afternoon I work for two or three hours more. About twice a week, I do readings in person–at a café near my home. I never work at weekends, I learned quickly that reading every single day can burn you out, so I use my weekend to meet family and friends and relax.

Q: What is the Tarot scene like in Spain? Do you attend conferences, meet-ups, or other Tarot events? Are there a lot of Tarot readers in your area?

Hmm, I live in the South of Spain and here there is not much of a Tarot scene–that is more in the center and north. Madrid and Barcelona host a few Tarot congresses and Esoteric fairs, but that is not usual in my part of the country. There are many Tarot readers in my area who advertise in the press and TV (Phone Tarot is a big business here) but I don’t really have a lot of contact with them, only with a few who are personal friends. However, thanks to the Internet I get in touch with a lot of Spanish-speaking professional readers (from Spain and Latin America) and quite a few times I have ended up meeting them in person, but they are informal meetups, nothing really serious.

Q: Your poem in the anthology is inspired by not only the Magician card, but also a musician named Paddy McAloon (nicknamed by his fans “The Old Magician” because of a song of his with that name). Would you share a little about your love of this British singer and songwriter? What do you find inspiring and magical about his music?

That’s a tough question, because Paddy McAloon has been my idol since I was 15 years old, and I’m 43 now! He is the leader (well, right now he’s the only member) of the British pop band Prefab Sprout. They were quite popular in Europe back in the 80s but they were never really big in the charts (only one top 10 hit). However, Paddy McAloon is critically acclaimed the world over as one of the best songwriters in pop.

What I like about his music? Well, it is a world in itself. Perfect, crystalline melodies, intelligent and sensitive lyrics, a constant search for perfection and beauty. It makes you look higher, it makes you see the world in a different light. It’s sensual and spiritual at the same time. It’s hard to explain.

This poem about Paddy as the Magician wasn’t inspired just by his song The Old Magician, or by his current looks–his white hair and beard make him look like a white wizard, something like Gandalf–but because of his personality. Paddy writes music every day, obsessively, yet he rarely releases what he writes–usually he releases an album every four or five years, often out of pressure from the record company. That’s because of his perfectionist streak–his songs never sound like he hears them in his mind. He often says he has tried to change, to become less prolific and more productive–especially now he’s married, a father of three, and in feeble health: he has lost most of his hearing in one ear due to tinnitus caused by Menière’s disease, and also his sight was affected by retina detachment. Yet he finds he can’t change: he finds himself writing and writing and not releasing most of what he does. He’s possessed by his music like, in my eyes, the Magician is possessed by Magic–he would like to stop and do other things, or do things differently, but magic has him in its hold. He can’t do anything about it.

Me1Q: I love your remarks about Paddy’s “crystalline melodies” and “sensitive lyrics!” I’d also love to hear more about the intersection of music and art in your writing process. For instance, do you read aloud when composing poetry and/or evaluate the white space on the page? Do you think poetry is more like song than painting (or vice versa)? Or do you think poetry needs to be a combination of both visual and auditory elements?

Hm, you see, my writing poetry takes place mostly in my head–I mean, two or three lines come to my mind while I’m doing something else and then I compose the whole poem in my head during the next two or three days. My poems often rhyme or have a very definite rhythm, so that helps to memorize them: When I feel I have completed the poem, then I write it down, I make changes and adjustments, and there it is. So I guess I don’t really take into account the visual part and to me poetry is more like song, or melody. I’m not really a visual person, though I love visual arts.

Below is Rozonda’s poem from the anthology:

The Magician

“One day I have to quit”
he says, and shakes his head.
(He doesn’t mean a word he says;
he won’t quit when he’s dead)

“I have to find a disciple
and teach him what I know;
I’m ill, I’m old, I need some rest;
it is my time to go”

But he knows that he’ll never stop.
He doesn’t know how to.
Energies come into his hands
unasked; he follows through.
Spells form themselves in his mind;
there’s nothing he can do.

And so he’ll stay on sacred space:
sick and tired, old and grey,
Conjuring wonders out of nothing
Until he goes away.

And even then, there on the altar,
his wand and his knife will
glow faintly under the waxing moon,
trembling with magic still.


You can hear Rozonda read her poem in the Listening Corner, and check out her bio on the Contributors Page.

Learn more about her Tarot readings here: rozondasalas.es

And you can order Arcana: the Tarot Poetry Anthology on the publisher’s website.

Featured Poet: Rosalynde Vas Dias

Editor’s note: This year, I am featuring a different poet from Arcana: the Tarot Poetry Anthology here on the blog each month. For September, Rosalynde Vas Dias generously submitted an essay on her writing process, Doctor Who, and Tarot. Without further ado, I turn the blog over to her.

My least favorite question from non-writer friends is “are you still writing?”. For one, there is no Vas Dias Picway to answer this question in a non-defensive way. Far better to ask “what are you working on these days?” and get regaled (bored to tears?) by the poet about how she is re-writing 2001: A Space Odyssey as a crown of sonnets, because even if the writer is not actively writing these sonnets, she is no doubt thinking about them, doing meta-writing, re-reading 2001, reading other sonnet crowns, or doing some activity which is fueling the larger project.

Thinking about all the invisible tasks or reveries or note-jotting-on-scraps while on coffee break reminded me of how writing in particular is more underground than other arts. We don’t audibly run scales or end a workday smeared with paint or clay. We don’t have shows or recitals. We are lucky to score a reading or two or be very active for a year as we usher a new book into the public eye. The rest of the time the poetic life is very un-showy. Thinking about the outside modesty of the poetic life made me wonder at how big it can feel to the writer, though. All that time with a few imaginary people. Crossing a parking lot and in your mind trying to figure out if you can write a poem where some very small prisms act as fortune telling bones. The way one figure in a poem shows up changed, but recognizable in a new poem, maybe ten years on, maybe for the rest of your entire writing life. How sick you are of that figure! Really, you ask yourself, this woman again? This destroying goddess again? This elusive shepherd-type again? What’s my problem? Can I please just stop writing about the heron in the river, please!?

It is embarrassing to talk about the poetic life, too look-at-my-drapey-lacy-sleeves- and-my-handkerchief-dotted-with-Tuberculin-blood, so I think this is the stuff we hide when asked if we are still writing or (hopefully!) asked what we working on. What it is like for me is the inside of the T.A.R.D.I.S.—a nerdy, but not Keatsian simile which I immediately cling to and preen. The T.A.R.D.I.S. is the time-traveling spaceship in the shape of a blue British police callbox of the Time Lord and big-time fanboy of the human race The Doctor.  Who, you ask? Exactly.

If you watch Dr. Who currently or ever have, you will know that the first thing almost anyone does when entering the T.A.R.D.I.S. for the first time is proclaim “Its bigger on the inside!” The viewer never sees very much beyond the immediate chamber that houses the controls, but the T.A.R.D.I.S. must be stocked with whatever supplies and diversions are needed when traveling endlessly through time and space. In this way, it is just as spacious and lonely as the imagination and can, similarly, transport one through time and space, though the T.A.R.D.I.S., like the poetic mind, tends to disobey or be contrary or become sidetrack and take you to a different destination entirely.

So, who is The Doctor, I wonder, trying to see if my metaphor has any legs at all or if it is doomed to collapse under my belaboring it. Is The Doctor the poet wondering in his own mind? Is the Doctor a kind of voice of the subconscious that operates within the poetic mind? And is all of humanity therefore the readers (don’t I wish!)? As I am doing all this pondering in order to write a short piece for the Tarot Poetry blog, I immediately want to match up The Doctor and the T.A.R.D.I.S. as well to their tarot archetypes. Is The Doctor the Fool? Well, yes, a little bit, I think—a wanderer, sometimes naïve, certainly courageous. But he is also the Magician, joining the powers of the heavens with the powers of the earth and certainly there is a Death aspect to the Doctor as well, as Time Lords die and regenerate into a new body (a convenient mechanism to keep the show going beyond any particular actor’s reign). And there are times he must be The Hermit, when he is without a Companion and traveling alone in his bigger-on-the-inside time machine. And what do people ask him at parties or gatherings?

Are you still traveling through time & space? Still trying to save humanity, Doctor? Trying to have a little fun and feel less lonely doing it?

Of course, why do you ask?

Editor’s note: Below is Rosalynde’s poem that is included in the anthology:

Fool, Upright

You draw the Devil card, reversed.
Which is represented by the Raven
in this particular deck.
A friend of yours, in a way.
Discerning the light
from the shadows. Come clean,
it means. But you keep your counsel.
Hold your tongue. Go buy a new
black wool watch cap
to replace the one you lost.
In it you feel shielded, less
visible. The ravens acted
as Odin’s eyes—Odin who died
just to conceive of an alphabet.
What is it to move among the crush
of mortal souls as a dead god?
The dead are rising::dwarf irises unfolding
in thin snow, the violet and gold
crocuses. How is your heart? Possible
replies are a multiple choice
you don’t compose. Some days
it is only coffee tightening your chest—
it is only lines of numbers pressing
against each other—you wake too alert
in bright moonlight. Odin bound and
hanging. For seven days. The black
cap covers your golden hair. You look
like a thief. You look like an actor,
faking her way into another character.
Odin among the living, disguised. Odin
among the dead, trying to remember
himself, in that land of the greywash,
of the sub-basement and the archived
payables of centuries past. You ask
again and draw Coyote, the Fool.
Your oldest friend. Who dies
a thousand times, poisoned,
foot-hold trapped, dogs
at her throat, and rises up from her
frayed, bleaching skin. Her mouth
seems to laugh. Her coat the color
of the grass, of caution.

You can read Rosalynde’s bio (and the bios of other poets in the book) on the Contributors Page.

And you can order the anthology on the Minor Arcana Press website.

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!

Featured Poet: Ruth Baumann

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.

Q: You’ve had a number of Tarot poems published in the past year. How did you become interested in 10371534_10206483662721596_3108087749459107299_nthe Tarot? Did poetry bring you to Tarot (or vice versa)?

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?

11137198_10206338217005544_2380951998864668382_nCreation 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?

11230223_10206294803560235_1851645248188745862_nI’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:

Ruth poem

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.

Featured Poet: Tony Barnstone

Editor’s note: Each month, I’m featuring a different contributor from Arcana: the Tarot Poetry Anthology. For June, Tony Barnstone generously submitted an essay on his love of William Blake, collaborating with artist Alexandra Eldridge, and using the Tarot to inspire creativity. Without further ado, I turn the blog over to him.                    

Wheel of Fortune by Alexandra Eldridge

Wheel of Fortune by Alexandra Eldridge

My Tarot poems are part of a much larger project – a full Tarot deck – that I’ve been working on for about 15 years. The project involves writing a double sonnet for every card in the Major Arcana and a quatrain for every card in the Minor Arcana (each card suggests a different meaning, depending on whether it is played upright or reversed, and so the double sonnet includes one upright and one reversed “reading” of the card). The project is being marketed to trade presses now and is called The Creativity Tarot: Six Arts in a Box: Poetry, Fiction, Theater, Dance, 2D & 3D Art.

The deep origins of the project go back to my family of artists. My mother is a painter and my father is a poet, and the arts and literature have always been part of our family pleasures. One of my early birthday presents was a book of the art of William Blake – who deeply influenced me with his visionary, raw, and antiauthoritarian sensibility. When I went to college, in fact, I studied both writing and printmaking, and created a sequence of text and image monotypes modeled upon William Blake’s illuminated manuscripts.

When I went to graduate school at UC Berkeley I started out as a Blake scholar, though I switched to William Carlos Williams in the end because I felt I could learn more from his poetry’s sensibility. (Williams, by the way, started out wanting to be a painter and had very close connections to the whole international New York art scene in modernism. Many of his poems are “translations” of the sensibilities of futurism, cubism, precisionism and other modern art movements into poetry.) Many of my personal and academic interests come out of this background. I teach a class in the graphic novel and the graphic poem, for example, and Blake is a hero to graphic novelists such as Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman, who often reference him in their work.

Thus it shouldn’t be a surprise that The Creativity Tarot is a collaboration with the artist Alexandra Eldridge (http://alexandraeldridge.com), who has a long connection to the work of William Blake – in fact back in the countercultural era, she and her ex-husband, Aethelred Eldridge, started a community, Golgonooza, based on the ideas of William Blake. Needless to say, the Ohio locals didn’t understand the Church of William Blake and the place was burned down, in what was probably arson.

Strength by Alexandra Eldridge

Strength by Alexandra Eldridge

Alexandra is doing the art for the cards, and I’m doing the accompanying poems as well as a handbook. The handbook is a guide to how to use the cards as a spur to creativity. It includes meditations on every card, creative catalysts to spark new poems, fiction, theater, dance, 2-D or 3-D art, guides to the daily draw and Tarot spreads, as well as shorter and longer courses in creativity. At the core of The Creativity Tarot is the insight that the teaching of creativity is based upon exercises that are in fact forms of divination. Consider that the great science fiction writer Philip K. Dick plotted his Hugo Award-winning novel The Man in the High Castle in part through the use of the Chinese divination system, the I Ching. The Tarot can be used to bypass the rational mind and get in touch with the intuitive self.

My original idea was to write a book of poems as a deck of cards, with poems on one side and art on the back, with the idea that it would be a book with no set page order – that poems and art would emerge intuitively from the drawing process. Part of the inspiration comes from the great pulp novel Nightmare Alley by William Lindsay Gresham, in which each chapter is titled after one of the figures in the Major Arcana, and part from the way that T.S. Eliot uses Tarot archetypes to prefigure the characters who would appear later in The Waste Land. The Waste Land’s structure is that of a shuffled deck of cards, after all. I was also interested in Julio Cortazar’s experimental novel Hopscotch, which had been designed to be read in multiple ways (hopscotching through the chapters and pages), as well as by the cubist influenced poems of e.e. cummings and Pierre Reverdy, which were designed to have multiple starting and endpoints so that they could be read in several ways simultaneously. Others texts I consulted included Italo Calvino’s book of Tarot short stories, The Castle of Crossed Destinies, and Salvador Dali’s surreal Tarot deck. So, there are origins.

Clearly, The Creativity Tarot has developed into a much more complex project than it started out to be, but that is the thing about creativity: it is a journey, and the best journeys are those into the unknown. Walk out of your house and onto the road. Who knows if you are on the Hero’s Journey or the Fool’s Journey? There’s a great Wheel spinning in the sky and a voice on the radio singing, “Round and round she goes, and where she stops nobody knows.”

[Below is one of Tony’s double sonnets that will be featured in the anthology.]

The High Priestess   

The High Priestess by Alexandra Eldridge

The High Priestess by Alexandra Eldridge

Oh, razzle-dazzle, feeling frazzled days,
Before the coffee, still halfway in sleep,
T-Shirt, PJs, my hair in feathered tufts,
a sleepy owl, with eyes a yellow glaze.
The Bacchae and the dervishes in deep
trance may have felt their unshaved being was rough
and their distracted minds too dull a blade
to razor it until they danced like funky
nutjobs, but if I fall completely back
into wild dream what kind of self is made?
A wooden Buddha on the table? Junky
bleeding from the magic needle track?
No, wisdom is the world. When I’m not there,
I spread my wings and fall into the air.

The High Priestess (Reversed)               

Down here among the roots of thought with rough
strife you push through the caverns of your sleep,
past ghosting lights that are the unformed stuff
of being, going deeper than the deep
until you find the chamber of her dreaming,
its curtained door, push your way in to where
a thing reveals itself that seems like seeming
yet makes the waking mind dissolve to air:
a woman in a chair, head of an owl
below the curtained moon; before she flies,
claws wide, she raises up her feathered cowl
to fix your gaze with golden fierce eyes.
And when she opens up her wings and sails
at you the sudden knowledge makes you scream
—to no avail: the final parted veil
shows you the lethal border of your being.

You can read Tony’s bio–and the bios of other poets who will be in the anthology–on the Contributors Page.

To learn more about the artist, Alexandra Eldridge, you can visit her website.

And you can pre-order your copy of Arcana: the Tarot Poetry Anthology on the Minor Arcana Press website.

Featured Poet: CAConrad

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?          

photo by Mikhail lossel

photo by Mikhail lossel

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.

1A88CAConrad crystal grid $88$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  1A88CAConrad88$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.