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,
trans-
substance,
my honey
in Your mouth.

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

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

quick with
silver.
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
Mercury—
I, Ganymede,
I, Hyacinth:
have me, God,
to slip down

and down
and down
upon
your golden
winged
wand.

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.

Featured Poet: Tanya Joyce

Editor’s note: This year, I am featuring a different poet from the anthology each month. April’s featured contributor is Tanya Joyce. We discuss poetics, painting, Middle English, Tarot, and Tanya shares some of her beautiful poetry and visual art.

“Vinyl Gothic” by Tanya Joyce

Q: Because you are both a painter and a poet, I would love to hear some of your thoughts on the relationship between the two arts. It’s been said that poetry is painting–do you agree with this? How are the two related for you in practice?

Poetry can be painting, especially with poets who described outdoor nature or natural settings. Shakespeare and the English Romantics come to mind. Painting can be poetry, especially in visual art that evokes elegance and flowing line, such as portraits by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres or John Singer Sargent. The chief difference between painting (or any other visual art) and poetry is that poetry — and all language — takes place in time. When a cat meows, the “me” precedes the “ow.” When we use words, even in Dada poetry, the sounds unveil themselves in a time sequence. Visual art is less time dependent. Even if a painter wants you to start looking at a painting in a certain way, you don’t need to do it. Viewers are freer to take in visual art as they wish.

I have no idea how poetry and painting are related in my work. I do them both, but not together. In three chapbooks, I put paintings and poetry together after they had each been completed, rather like redecorating a room with materials that have been in storage for a period of time. And I am in love with both disciplines. Perhaps that is what ties them together for me.

Q: You currently lead meetings of the Thursday Night Tarot in San Francisco. How did you become involved with this group, and what do the meetings look like?

In the late 1980s, San Francisco artist, poet, puppeteer Robert Leroy Smith was looking for volunteers to be part of a new meditation series that included guided visualization, runes, tarot, and other practices. Poet/painter Anna Ruth Kipping and I volunteered. Tarot, especially, appealed to us, probably because of the imagery. Anna Ruth’s son Doug Kipping said, “Well, if you liked that, you might like Jason Lotterhand’s weekly gatherings at Ft. Mason.” Jason started The Thursday Night Tarot in 1950, but it was new to us. We liked Jason’s informality. He was an extremely gifted metaphysical philosopher with an abundant sense of humor. He may well have been the first person, at least in the English-speaking world, to open metaphysics to all who cared to come — without charge, with no “grades,” no certificates, no “beginning, middle, and advanced.” You just come. And because tarot images are archetypes, they evoke something different each time we look at them, so that now, after 65 years, discussions continue to be dynamic.

Jason’s book, The Thursday Night Tarot, gives an accurate presentation of the relaxed format of our discussions, focusing on one card of the major arcana per week. Just out a couple of years ago is a second edition of the book, under its original working title, The Spoken Cabala. Both editions are edited by Jason’s long time colleague, Arisa Victor.

Q: Would you be wiling to share some of your experiences editing a collection of Tarot haikus? How did making that book develop your understanding of the arcana and poetics?

Musician Richard Jerome Bennett presented the idea of honoring our then hostess, Anna Ruth Kipping, by writing haiku for each card of the major arcana. Anna Ruth was a great haiku fan. Some people in the group liked to write and others did not. So, at the start, both haiku in traditional formats and haiku-inspired poems were welcome. We wrote at the end of an evening’s discussion, so something about the card of the day was in our minds. Twice, I remember, people said “Oh, I can’t write a thing!” My response was, “That’s fine. If something about this card comes to you later, you can add it then.” In both cases, the people who had said they couldn’t write started writing. Some barrier was overcome when they knew they did not have to show a result.

The editorial decision was simple. I included whatever people wrote with as little editing as possible. Authorship attribution included daily life names, names assumed for the occasion, and various shades of anonymous. I trusted the archetypal imagery of the cards to provide focus. I also trusted that the background I had in the tarot “Western Mystery System,” plus Medieval methods of meditative focus such as The Cloud of Unknowing, would allow order to reveal itself in a coherent volume. Poetics work for us most intensely when we do not feel confined to express ourselves as we “think we should.” This does not mean abandoning formal study. It means allowing formal study and intuitive discovery to join hands and stroll along together, just as the path in The Moon card runs between the domesticated dog and the wild wolf…

Q: I love medieval romances, like Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. How does working with Middle English influence your current writing? Would you discuss the relationship between text and illustrations in medieval manuscripts and how that reflects your own dual roles as painter and poet?

Gawain by Tanya Joyce

First, I must tell you that it was Sir Gawain’s pentacle that lead me to really explore tarot, one of two rare systems that treat the pentacle in depth. (The other is Chinese medicine.) Why, I wondered, is Gawain given the pentacle as an identifying image at a historical time (late fourteenth century) when people were being arrested and sometimes killed for displaying a pentacle in public? I still do not have all the answers I would like to that question, but in England, where metaphysical societies are often supported by strong, if quiet, tradition, clues abound.

Medieval poetic forms — alliteration in English and rhyme in French, for example — are used dynamically in Medieval poetry. They’re not applied with the idea that people long ago in some “golden age” used them. They are part of a sense of NOW. This always makes fascinating poetry, even when we don’t understand all the words. So my first answer to your question is that these powerful poetic forms are a carrot on a stick, held by the Muse as she sits on my back while I plod along the country lane of my own creations. That carrot — sweet, crunchy, and bright colored — draws me onward.

Medieval people did not have the kind of historical consciousness we take for granted. If a fourteenth century patron has commissioned a copy of works by the sixth century philosopher, Boethius, the illustrations will show fourteenth century dress and buildings. This method of work puts us in the middle of a poem. The action didn’t happen hundreds of years ago. It is happening right now. When text and illustration do not agree in detail, we tend to think, “Oh, that illustrator didn’t read the poem.” Not so. In the manuscript with Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, is a poem called The Pearl. In The Pearl, New Jerusalem is described as a glistening, translucent city. The illustration shows a half-timbered country castle. However, from the poem’s presentation of the two main characters, a reader knows just where the illustration belongs in the poem. It would be as though Geoffrey Chaucer met and joined the Canterbury Pilgrims at a B and B right near your house, and not long ago or far away.

When I was first studying Medieval literature, I did a lot of paintings with words written on them and poems with designs as part of the final presentation. Kenneth Patchen’s hand written poems with animals worked in among the letters were models for me. This approach was not well received in graduate school and, frankly, I was thrown out. One of my mentors (to whom I owe a lot in other areas) absolutely would not allow any visual elements in what I submitted to him — though he combined excellent photos and text in his own work. The head of the creative writing program I was enrolled in told me that visual images were a “crutch” and they had to be eliminated if I was going to write poetry. As he spoke, I noticed a picture of Chaucer on horseback in an ornate botanical border from the Ellesmere Canterbury Tales hanging on the wall behind him.

My work today is less directly related to the forms of Medieval books, but my sense of integration among art forms is more intense. For the past two or three years, I have been working with dance, poetry, and visual art together.

banner paintings

Banner paintings by Tanya Joyce, winner of the 2014 Big Art contest, danced to the poem “Artistry” by Judy Davies

Q: What advice do you have for other artists?

Don’t stop doing what is in you to do no matter what. The things you need will come along, often from sources we do not expect. And it’s important — as much as possible — to continue with a warm heart toward society. Tibetan philosopher Chogyam Trungpa said, “When we talk about compassion, we talk in terms of being kind. But compassion is not so much being kind; it is being creative to wake a person up.” The role and function of the arts is to do exactly this. Make a big sign of Chogyam Trungpa’s observation and put it up on a wall where you can see it easily. Make a small version to keep with your tarot cards or in your wallet.

The following is an excerpt from Tanya’s book Tarot Haiku that will be featured in Arcana: the Tarot Poetry Anthology:

Verses for the Tarot

The High Priestess 2

Three points on the crown.
Three pomegranates dance.
Her blue dress turns into
Mountain streams.

Strength 8

Tail of a cobra, body of him and her,
Necklace of roses, red fur.
Guess who I am. In all poses
Sitting, standing, running, roaring,
Asleep, awake I am
Deep inside you.

Tanya Joyce (right) with Semion Mirkin

Hermit 9

Too in love to speak
Breath pulsing the midnight sky
She climbs the mountainside
To wrap herself in the folds
Of the Hermit’s cloak.

The Tower 16

The crown blows off
Clouds of misunderstanding.
What did you think
I meant? Stars, lights,
Lightning strikes,
But only once
Falling, they have not yet
Decided to laugh.

The World 21

Wear a red band in my hair
A purple scarf to step
Out of the shower
And season my food with
Laurel leaves.

To learn more about Tanya, check out her website: www.tanyajoyce.com
You can also find more information about her and the other poets in the anthology here.

Featured Poet: Camelia Elias

Editor’s note: this year, I am featuring a different poet from the anthology each month. For March, Camelia Elias offers some intriguing answers to my questions about Tarot, magic, poetry, and the academy. 

Elias 1 Q: In your blog, Taroflexions, you discuss the cunning-folk method to reading cards. What does a cunning-folk approach to writing poetry look like? How is your cartomantic craft related to your poetics?

First of all I’d have to say something about how I define the ‘cunning-folk approach.’ For me, this approach, whether on the conceptual or pragmatic level, is deeply steeped in common sense, folk wisdom of old, and enchantment. What I emphasize in all of my writings and teachings, whether at the university or other learning community, is the following: Keep it to close to nature. When I say this I don’t mean to equate the cunning-folk approach to some Romantic idea of the sublime, or the arrogance that goes into it: ‘Here I am, on top of this mountain. I’ve conquered it all by myself. I’m so good. The nature up here crushes me and it’s nothing like the nature down there’. I see the cunning folk approach to cards as a humble approach, and it is in this humbleness that I find the poetics of divination. When you keep close to nature, you forget culture and its discontents. A different voice emerges than the dictatorial one that instructs us on how to follow this or that symbolic order, because only so can we gain access to this or that symbolic power.

What interests me in the cunning folk approach to the cards is the grace that we find associated with the tender voice. The voice that enchants us by showing us how to embody the functions of each image we contemplate without prejudice, and then act accordingly. You see that Moon card? You see that Moon beyond the card? How about you think: ‘I’m going out tonight to look at the moon. I will let the moon shine on my fears, madness, and self-delusion. Better yet. I will just let the moon shine.’ It is in this latter statement, and the ‘better yet’ that I locate the cunningness in the way in which we perceive whatever message we can derive from a card.

Ultimately, and speaking from the position of someone who is beginning to lay down her guns, I suppose that what I’m interested in is how to get old and avoid developing a patronizing tone. I try to listen to each card and then assess its power in relation to how it can teach me to be a silent sage among the crowds. I’m interested in the cunningness of listening to nature, not to ourselves.

There is a lot of emphasis in the Tarot world on the power of the cards to participate in developing awareness about who and what we are, but I’m beginning to be suspicious of what kind of self emerges from the so-called ‘work on the self’. I find the self to be very much the product of culture, the product of algorithms that compute personal realization, reputation, and inter-relationships according to rankings and feedback processes. I’m quite tired of all this.

Personally, what I now advocate for myself and others in my work with the cards is simply to go out and get a sense of what nature gives us. In fact, I find the ultimate cunningness manifested as the ability to escape being in the world according to the world’s premise. The cunning-folk way has a long tradition behind it of questioning the very premise for the condition of our existence, always suggesting that perhaps there are other ways of matching our skills and values to what the world needs than through constantly having to compromise our intellectual integrity, freedom to think beyond thrones and global fame, and honesty.

Q: I’m interested in the balance you strike between cunning folk wisdom and your academic work as a professor who holds many degrees. Would you be willing to talk about a few of the intersections (and/or divergences) between university life and learning outside the classroom?

I often say that the reason why it works for me, that is to say, why it works to have my feet in both camps, is because I’m good at keeping narratives apart. ‘Give Caesar what Caesar wants, and God what God wants.’ But that is not entirely true. Actually, that is more like wishful thinking. One of the lessons I’ve learned throughout the years is that you pay for everything. If you’re with the university and let the others in the university know that you entertain what from the university’s point of view is a cuckoo idea, you find out very quickly that, although you can account for the cuckoo idea, and tell everyone that there’s a long tradition of intelligent folks having stuck their intellectual noses in, say, Renaissance cauldrons, combining math with magic, philosophy with fantasy, and cosmology with culture, the others in the university will still look at you with suspicion.

Now, I know of folks deeply steeped in all sorts of magical discourses and at the same time holding the endowed chair of this and that fancy academic discipline, yet without ever having disclosed anything to another academic fellow soul about what they research during the night. Why? Because it’s too expensive, and they can’t really afford the luxury of the so-called freedom of speech. Generally, if you speak against the empty rhetoric of the academy in relation to the way the academy squares off against alternative epistemologies and systems of knowledge, you’re out. As an academic you lose a lot of credibility if you do too much research into the esoteric arts, into sacred and secret texts. A few academics are excused, if they happen to be associated with anthropology, or history of religion departments, but even these folks have to be careful, as they are often under a lot of scrutiny. No sir, you can’t be both an objective observant and a subjective participant in ecstatic dances that would allow you to see for yourself what the circus is all about.

Fortunately, this attitude has been changing now, but it’s still too slow for me, and I can see that a lot of competent academics interested in esotericism are still under too much pressure. So what is there to do, if you want to let others know that, perhaps, indeed, you are good at keeping narratives apart? Some go ahead and establish a solid publishing record, just think of historian Carlo Ginzburg writing about the witches in Italy, or Ronald Hutton doing the same in Britain, or the late Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke writing on Western esotericism and Neoplatonism. They have been very influential in changing the public opinion about the ‘relevance’ of studying cunning-folk methods of reading signs at university level and living the magical life according to all sorts of systems of correspondences, some more intellectually devised than others. But there’s also a lot of energy that goes into simply devising strategies of countering the general rhetoric of suspicion that goes on at the administrative level.

In other words, if you want to prove your worth and gain some form of respect for your work in the critical, historical, and analytical study of esoteric movements and mysticism, you must work twice as hard, as you’re likely to be up against the administrators’ prejudice and a constant worry about preserving the reputation, or the brand name of the university. You are also up against gatekeepers who will do everything in their power to ensure that none of that talk about alternative forms of knowledge and aspiration for setting up programs in astrology, divination, and cartomancy infiltrates the good old Hellenistic thinking about what the university is good for. This can have an unfortunate outcome: As the scholar interested in promoting esoteric scholarship, you run the risk of becoming too eager and too righteous, too defensive and too resentful, hating the worlds that don’t really accept you.

In my case, as I’m not even affiliated with the intellectual history department, I have to find a way to cover my base when I disclose that what interests me in my own field, American Studies, is not politics and what Obama is now up to, but rather forms of spirituality and the transmission of alternative systems of knowledge. In this sense, I would much rather teach a class about the way American poets have been using the images of the tarot in their poems to say something about their time, than teach the same poets but from the perspective of what they have to say about war, the fragmentation of the self, and other such abstract concerns.

Yet, devising my own curriculum along esoteric interests has not always been welcome, and on one occasion I’ve actually had students complain about the reading list for a course on magic, claiming that it went against their religious beliefs. The same students have also expressed concern with being taught by someone who they were convinced was a practitioner of the occult arts. I laughed a lot at such crass stupidity and pointed to the fact that what I was doing in the classroom was teaching the students the venerable skills of critical thinking and that I had no obligation to share with them what I engage with on a private basis. Still, I couldn’t help lamenting the lack of vision and bigotry among young people who ought to display openness towards all knowledge, rather than assume a position of conservatism and prejudice. I find this development deplorable, for what is next? The students will express their sense of entitlement to have their history of religion professor fired because she goes to church on Sunday, or their anthropology professor for doing yoga, or their literature professor for reading tarot cards in the manner of T.S. Eliot, W.B. Yeats, Charles Olson, Anne Sexton, Diane DiPrima, Sylvia Plath, and a host of others.

On the other hand, some of us are fortunate enough to work at universities that don’t resist the idea of considering other approaches to knowledge than the ones dictated from above by the ones interested in money, external funds, visibility, ranking, and points for your publications that bring in more money.

Not so long ago my own Head of Department at Roskilde University, together with the Chancellor at the time, approved of taking over the famous collection of 20th c. Tarot cards, donated generously to the University Library by K. Frank Jensen, a legend in the Tarot community. They have also appointed me the president of the collection. The library is now in the process of cataloguing the material and soon I hope we can open it to the public. On another occasion, the same Head of Department has also asked me what I thought of his involvement and work towards assessing an application for accreditation of an astrology program at the University of Oslo. I simply said the following to him: ‘You go in there, sit at the table with the other suits, and if anyone has any objections just raise this question: ‘what are you all afraid of?’ We both laughed, but I hope we can both do better than that.

Finally, when all this is said and done, I have to admit that there’s yet another reason why I don’t keep my esoteric interests under the table. This is due to my gender and ethnic background. I may have a good job in the humanities, but like so many in my position, as a woman of different ethnic background there’s only so much you can aspire to in terms of getting that final recognition for what you do. You can score the highest and most prestigious degrees, but you will not come even close to having any real power. This is very humbling but also liberating at the same time. Now I tell myself that it doesn’t matter whether I tell people or not about my research interests. At my working place I will always be that odd woman from Romania who has weird ideas. Hence, I will never have power because no one will trust me enough to give me any. Maybe that’s a good thing. As I’m a very good problem solver, but not in the way that others expect me to be, I can only imagine what I would come up with, if they all let me.

The bottom line is that if you want to hack it at the university, while insisting on doing unusual research, be ready to pay for your lunch. But where the magical discourse in the university is concerned, I’d venture to say that, in fact, things are as they should be. It would surprise me greatly, if all of a sudden we had magic gentrified and part of the mainstream. I prefer not to think of that scenario.

Q: How would you describe the Tarot scenes in Denmark, where you currently live, and Romania, where you are from? How do they compare to each other and to Tarot communities in the US?

The answer to this question will be shorter, simply because I’m not competent enough to offer an opinion. I’m not familiar enough with what is going on in any of these communities, because I don’t have the necessary time to invest in making contributions other than marginal through my writings on Taroflexions. On a general level, I’m aware of the different traditions of reading the cards. In Romania I grew up with reading plain playing cards. If people read the Tarot, then it would be a variant of the Marseille cards. In Denmark, pretty much as it used to be in the US, people have preferred the Waite/Smith tarot and the Crowley/Harris pack. Most Danes, however, have shown a preference for the Thoth Tarot, rather than the ‘standard’ Rider US Games pack. I place this on a form of snobbism that I have a hard time relating to, though I may be unfair here in my generalization.

In contrast, Romania nowadays is most eclectic. This may have to do with the fact that we’ve always had a very strong tradition for all things esoteric, even when interest in such things could land you in prison. There were many ‘secret’ groups and societies acting underground under the communist regime. After the fall of the communist block these societies have grown exponentially, and there’s now a large proliferation of all things occult. I’m more familiar with what the Association of Romanian Astrologers is up to, as they organize events and write interesting papers on horary and electional astrology. To my knowledge, the Romanian cartomancers are not as organized, and my impression is that each card reader acts in private capacity without attending any regular group meetings.

In Denmark, most card readers also have another umbrella they practice under, ranging from advertising work in Nordic shamanism to spiritual healing, life-coaching, and psychology consultancy. No one I know in Denmark works for the financial prediction market, but there may be some in private practice who do similar work as some astrologers do for the so-called financial tycoons. The country loves consultants, but there’s a preference for the ‘official’ ones with degrees in business and communication, and who deliver the worst clichés you can imagine. My university hires them. The horror, the horror…

Finally, comparing the three countries, I’d have to say that Denmark is the least interested in either endorsing or consecrating diviners. Although there’s a growing interest in spirituality here, there’s also a lot of suspicion regarding the role of the diviner for the society. Shamanism seems to be more accepted, winning ground, but there’s little a cartomancer can do here to convince the general public that we are neither better nor worse than the fortune-tellers populating Wall Street. Romania is a great place for divination. Everyone is deliciously superstitious and there’s a lot of interesting work coming out of it, especially in respect to revaluing the cunning-folk tradition. In the US, I find it entrancing that people can attend Tarot conferences, get together for workshops and other related activities.

Q: I’m fascinated by your creation of sigils and enchantments. How would you compare crafting words and sigils? Would you talk a little about visual poetics?

As I have also stated elsewhere, I’m having fun with magic. I don’t believe in anything and I don’t pay allegiance to anything. I trust in experience and the experience of enchantment. The experience of magic is one of adjustment to the possibility of enchantment and tuning in to what may be accomplished. I often tell people that all they need to do is simply imagine things. Imagine getting the desired job, or the desired man. Personify it, shapeshift, and run after it faster than a gazelle, and make that stone, or the impossible mountain twinkle in your eye. See the whole universe unfold before your gaze.

Magic is a set of rules and rituals performed with the intent to change something. If I tell people that I perform something exclusively for them, they get happy. That’s pretty magical to me. I follow in the footsteps of old masters, such as Cornelius Agrippa, Giordano Bruno, and Marsilio Ficino. For a splash of blood and gore, I go with the instructions in the magical grimoire called the Picatrix: ‘Kill that tiger, and eat its liver at midnight…’ I create elections by looking at the stars and constellations and then I imprint their patron sigils on parchment. The whole time I say to myself: ‘Blessed be your lucky star, for you are never ever bored, nor suffer from depression or some other midlife crisis’. I want life to spell ABRACADABRA for me.

I want others to see what I see, to see what there is to see for themselves, with their own eyes. That’s the function of my sigils: to give people a sense of being alive beyond dictations. I put all this into weird scribbling on parchment and I allow my voice to thunder a conjuration in good balance. I write it all down and try to recreate for others the same feeling and excitement that grabs me in the moment of crafting these spells, talismans, amulets, or some other type of sigil. People can then put it into their pockets, and read aloud the words whenever they feel that they need a boost of confidence. I call this walking the web of life with others, with their life-force and their breath. It’s really a high privilege to be able to exert our presence unto others in this way.

Q: Your life seems to be filled with magic. What advice do you have for people who want to live a more magical life?

Sense. Smell. Hear. Touch. See. Living the magical life is not the kind of living that is always up to others. Living the magical life means giving yourself license to go places where no one else has gone: ‘Kill that tiger and eat its liver at midnight…’ Living the magical life is like putting a bullet to your head, a bullet that has passed through a butterfly. As superstition has it, with a butterfly in your gun you can’t possibly miss the target. I think that we ought to be less concerned with the ways of culture and more concerned with the ways of our own sensing. The tower protecting our egos should be gunned down as soon as it becomes a prison. Living the magical life means getting a sense of being leveled to the ground, tasting the nothing that is. Our own nothingness. You can live the magical life if you see the magic in you, not the culture in you.

Culture has its discontents, as Freud rightly pointed out, and so has magic if we insist on tagging understanding and the rational onto it. Magic is not easy, precisely because it’s very simple. We invent rules and conventions to counter our bewilderment with how simple everything really is. The laws of nature are mighty simple, but we resist that understanding, that ‘seeing’. It’s as if we don’t trust simple truths because we are suspicious that the simple doesn’t offer us enough. Others have capitalized on this suspicion. Just look at the main religions. The more rules they invent, the more money there’s in it for them. I think that participating in the creation of something magical is participating in that which does not ask us in return: ‘What’s in it for me?’

Fall in love with your own heartbeat, and feel the pulse of an other who may stand next to you, watching the magic that you are, and the magic that you can perform with the greatest force there is, the force of the voice that can successfully summon a mountain. The voice that can successfully command: ‘Open Sesame’. The voice that can sing the ancient song of the self as rhythm and symmetry, as a walk in beauty and balance through the doors of perception.

A POEM

Santa Maria
Madre di Dio
Maria Vergine
The dead head of Saint Catherine of Siena
Guadalupe in the fire
Black Madonna, mother of all
Life and death –
Dead children can also come out of you – bless their souls
Santa Maria
Madre di Dio
Lilith, mother of the ultimate disobedience –
How dare you give birth to a God out of wedlock –
Bless the Gods
Who offer their semen to Goddesses
More powerful than them to drink
Santa Maria
Madre di Dio
What is yours is not also someone else’s
That’s the law.
The law of non-contradiction.
Guadalupe in the fire
Santa Maria
Madre di Dio
Abracadabra
Black Madonna
Only you can suspend the law
With your swift ‘and yet’ and ‘amen’ –
If you so please.
Black Madonna
Madonna vergine
Santa Maria
Madre di Dio
Lilith
There’s compassion in the bond.

Elias 2© Ellen Lorenzi-Prince, Dark Goddess Tarot

A SPELL

Love in symmetry is a mysterious dance. A dance of stars. The crossing hearts are marking the spot, fetching the X. The coup de grâce on behalf of the cross blows the breath saying: Let there be light and love and a strong body.
The spell be impaled. Elias 3© Camelia Elias
Spell on black tourmaline with bones
Ink on paper, 2013

You can learn more about Camelia and the other poets who are in the anthology here.

Featured Poet: Alison Stone

Editor’s note: this year, I am featuring a different poet from the anthology each month. For February, Alison Stone shares some of her experiences with Tarot-inspired painting, poetry, and community. Without further ado, I turn the blog over to her.

Tarot, Poetry, and MeAlison Stone

by Alison Stone

I was introduced to the tarot in childhood, when a friend gave me a “tarot game” for my ninth or tenth birthday. Manufactured by one of the leading toy companies, it came in a bright purple box and contained a tarot deck, some poker chips, and instructions for both playing the game and using the cards for divination.

I was fascinated with the images and the idea that these cards could tell the future. Abandoning the game after a couple half-hearted attempts, I turned my energy to memorizing the cards’ meanings and their placement in the Celtic cross. The cards were Rider-Waite outlines, but colored differently, (tan instead of yellow, for example), probably to save money on printing. I felt that these strange drawings held secrets and was excited for them to be revealed.

Though I usually found memorization quite easy, especially if the subject interested me, I simply could not learn the cards’ meanings. Spacey and dull, I had no idea what they were trying to say. It was as if someone or something was telling me “no.” I put the cards away.

In my late teens, I bought several other decks and loved seeing the different ways artists interpreted each card. I also bought a variety of books on the tarot and began to study. Again, something odd happened. While I easily digested the material about tarot history and the overall meanings of the cards, when I tried to learn their divinatory messages or how the cards affected each other in a spread, I once more got the clear feeling that this was not for me.

One day I decided to paint my own interpretation of The Star, a card I felt particularly drawn to. When I finished, I started The Tower. At this point I made the decision to paint the 22 Major Arcana.

I followed the same process for each painting — I would study a variety of renderings of the new photos Two of Cups 18x12image, then read different commentaries, sometimes taking notes. Finally I would meditate on the energy of that particular card until I felt connected enough to begin an initial sketch. Several years later, I was finished and began showing the paintings. People asked if I was planning to reproduce them as a deck, drawn to the art but unable to afford a painting. My plan was to stop after the Majors. Maybe greeting cards? Posters? As though a teacher were chiding me for laziness, I got the clear message “Finish the deck.”

It took me ten years to complete the 78 paintings. Sometimes I got bored and wanted to quit. Other times my connection to the cards was scary, as when I set to work on the Nine of Swords, in a perfectly sunny mood, to suddenly find tears streaming down my face. I had the paintings produced as a deck, overseeing the process to make sure the colors, which were of primary importance to me, came through. Surely now, I thought, using the cards I had made, I would be capable of divination.

Disappointingly, the answer was again “no.” While I could recite the meanings of each card, my attempts at divination were clumsy and forced. On the other hand, the tarot healing work I was developing deepened and strengthened. Maybe, I thought, I had done what I needed to do with the tarot artistically and could move on to other projects.

I didn’t believe that for long. During the painting of the deck, a line had come to me — “this earth you drag your feet upon is paradise.” I wrote it down with the title The Empress but didn’t write from the tarot again until I had finished all the paintings. Then more lines revealed themselves and it became clear – my next task was tarot poetry.

My first encounter with the tarot in poetry was during freshman year of college, when I read The Hanged One 24x36Eliot’s The Wasteland in a literature survey class. I had read little poetry, and had no interest in reading more, but this poem amazed me. Though I didn’t understand it, I was drawn into its mystery and music. The reference to the Hanged Man was one of my few anchors in trying to understand the text. I felt a grateful flash of recognition, like hearing English spoken while traveling abroad.

By the time I turned to writing my own tarot poems, I had been writing seriously for years and had my first book published. I read voraciously. While I rarely encountered the tarot in poems, the few instances when I did were unexpected delights.

I finished the 22 poems of the Major Arcana, got them published as a chapbook, and once more wondered if I was done. I wanted to write about other things. Tarot, however, had other ideas. Again it was clear that I needed to do all 78. As with the paintings, the process was sometimes organic and inspired; other times an exercise in determination and will.

That book, Ordinary Magic, is complete, but my stewardship to the tarot is not. I’m not sure where I’ll be led next. I’m pretty sure there’s a nonfiction book in my future, describing the tarot healing work I’ve been practicing with some of my therapy clients. This work has been evolving for years, but now doesn’t feel like the right time to write it down.

I think the next step in my tarot/poetry journey involves community. Thanks to the internet, tarot enthusiasts and poets are able to connect with unprecedented ease. The tarot poetry anthology brings a bunch of us together to let our words percolate and deepen their individual impact (thanks, Marjorie). It’s like Tarot is throwing a party and people from all over the world are coming together to celebrate and dance. I’m delighted to be on the guest list.

[Below is one of Alison’s poems that will be featured in the anthology.]

XIV. Temperance

by Alison Stone 14 Temperance

Of course moderation is a piece of cake
for me; I am an angel.
I have had eternity to master balance,
and besides, it’s easy to stay
calm in any storm
when a rainbow arcs perpetually
above my head like a giant umbrella.
I understand you are only human.
Still, why let yourself be bumped from center
by recycled heart hungers or the lust beast.
Throw away your book of rules. Stop boring everyone
with resolutions. Just plant
one foot on land, the other
in the cold school of the sea.

All photos of Alison’s work are used with permission. You can learn more about her Tarot deck at: www.stonetarot.com and her poetry at: www.stonepoetry.org

Also, check out Alison’s bio and information about the other poets who will be in the anthology here.