Tag Archives: featured poet

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.


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
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
There’s compassion in the bond.

Elias 2© Ellen Lorenzi-Prince, Dark Goddess Tarot


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.

Featured Poet: Enrique Enriquez

Welcome to 2015! This year, I will be featuring one poet a month here on the blog. My first featured contributor is Enrique Enriquez, who generously agreed to answer some questions about Tarot and poetry.

Marjorie Jensen: What does your process for writing Tarot poetry look like? How is it similar to writing a Tarot reading?

Ee-gray-wallEnrique Enriquez: When the reader of a book reads the word ‘apple’, he fills that word with all the apples he has eaten. When a tarot reader looks at an apple he sees it as the crossing of a horizontal axis in which another apple became a seed, that seed became a tree, the tree gave us our apple, that in turn will dry down to its own seeds… and a vertical axis in which the Law of Gravity echoes the Fall of man. What if we could read a word as one reads the tarot? Then that word would predict its own fate, which is to turn itself into another word.

Maybe what I do isn’t poetry, but it is indistinguishable from poetry.

MJ: You use several different languages in your work. How many languages do your read/speak? What inspired you to create multilingual pieces?

EE: The best way to write with an open mind is by doing so in a language you can’t understand.

Language has an authority I am interested in dispelling. The first law of language is exclusion: only the ‘initiated’ in a language can speak it. But the membrane between languages isn’t consistently dense. Now and then it becomes thin so you can cross from one language to another one, from one “truth” to another. In those crossings you learn that there is a higher language whose rules supersede the particulars of all languages. This is the language of forms, some people call it the ‘language of the birds’.

MJ: Your poetry seems to have strong Oulipo influences. Could you talk a bit about your experience with Oulipo wordplay?

EE: The works of the OuLiPo group share one quality with the tarot: the potential is more exciting than the result. Devising constraints that would produce literature is sexier that any literature such constrain would render. The tarot’s promise of conjuring up any narrative is sexier than any narrative conjured up by the tarot.

OuLiPo is the offspring of the College de ‘Pataphysique, which is an offspring of Alfred Jarry’s imagination. Jarry inherited a taste for wordplay from Rabelais, Tabourot, Villon, etc. Wordplay can be seen as a pataphysical way on interrogating a word. ’Pataphysics is important to me because it lends the eccentricity of literature to the assertiveness of science. That is how one could eventually reach symbolic speed, become imaginary.

‘Pataphysics addresses the rules that govern the language of forms: syzygy and clinamen. Syzygy accounts for the equivalence of forms, something we also hear expressed as ‘as above, so below’. Goethe said is best: “flowers are the stars of earth”. Clinamen speaks of exceptions: the swerve from these equivalences. A flower and a star mirror each other, but as mirrors they are mutually concave: the star enlarges all we know about a flower, the flower enlarges all we know about a star.

The space in between the flower and the star is the mandorla in The World card.

MJ: I’ve heard you’re an excellent card-handler. How would you compare card tricks–sleight of hand magic and even just the magic of casino dealers–with Tarot and poetry?

EE: By looking at tarot cards we gamble. We know that they are going to mess with our heads, without any guarantee about the outcome.

Experiencing the tarot could be as swift and clear as vanishing a coin, only in reverse. It is not that “now you see it, now you don’t”, but “now that it is here, it can’t be unseen”.

MJ: What advice/recommendations/words of wisdom do you have for other poets/Tarot readers?

EE: To read tarot one has to stand on a paradox. To work with poetry one has to practice hopelessness. The best place to learn both is by standing behind the man who stands behind the curtain.


MJ: Below is one of Enrique’s poems that will be featured in the anthology.

[mandorla, a word for pun]

Note about the illustrations: these illustrations contain no treat-tease.

An ellipse is an eclipse. The ellipse is the lips of two circles kissing, overlapping, over-lipping, wandering around the wunder rim. The mandorla is the intersection, the space across two circles. 




A cross is an X. A circle is a silent letter O. Two circles equal O O. If they weren’t silent they would spell “Oh! Oh!”. Taken as two eyes, these two Os look at us as we see ourselves in the mirror every morning, through a straight (straight: that which contains the X trait) line that connects our eyes to their reflexion and renders both equivalent. EQUIVALENT starts with EQUIEQUIS is the Spanish name for X, which sounds like A KISS and is expressed as X. This demonstrates conclusively (a “conclusion” is nothing else but a l-ess “concussion”) how a mandorla is a gap, a lull, a shift between two stances where “missing dog” and “my seeing dog” are virtually interchangeable. 

The mandorla is the graphic expression of puns, giving visual form to the flustered state induced by their ambiguity.

Mandorla is an Italian word for “almond”, that seems like a contraction of two Spanish words: MANDO (command) and ORLA (fringe). A command over the fringe. “A command over” is a comma and over; the precipice of silence over the verge. “Verge” is as closer to “verga” (cock) as “fringe” is to “skirt”. A mandorla shows us that we need two circles to make a door, and the word DOOR agrees.

As ALMOND the mandorla take us back to AL MUNDOTHE WORLD, this is, LE MONDE of the tarots.

Inside LE MONDE‘s mandorla we have a FIGURE, this is, a FIG UR, or U R FIG: “you are fig”. Fig leaves were used by Adam and Eve to cover their nakedness. Out of nakedness God® invented shame. Out of shame, men invented Fashion. A leaf alleviates nakedness because nAKEdness contains an ache that admits no indifference and urges us to do something about it. So, we grab a fig leaf and cover our puDENdum, a word that conveniently hides a “den” right in the middle. This den is our mandorla, a visual element often used to represent the side wound of Christ, and by extension, a bleeding (able ding) vagina. (Outside our game of analogies we reject any comparison between vaginas and wounds, although we cherish how the compression of VAGINA + WOUND would give us VAGAWUND / VAGABOND, the numberless trump in the tarots, also named Le Fou or Le Mat, whose stance teaches us that, if anything, a vagina isn’t a wound on a woman’s body but in a man’s heart). 

Beyond the vagina we find the uterus: utter us. (We arrive to the RUS in “uterus” and to the ROUS in “preposterous” by means of the same RUSE). If we subtract the common letters in UTERUS and UTTERED, we end with USED (juiced), a word that should never be spelled to describe a lady, and which anagrams into DEUS (“god”). In the tarots we have LA MAISON DIEU, and DIEU sounds like the Catalonian DIU (says), which would be the equivalent to the spanish DICE. Every word we utter is a gamble in the rolling of our tongue. That is why in English the word DICE denotes a small piece of bone used for laying odds. Both OddS and “bOneS” carry in their bones the French word “os”, which pronounced sounds like “Oh” and means “hueso” (bone), a word as close to “hueco” (hole) as it is to “osso”, the italian word for “os”. One die, one eye, one “Oh!”. Two dice, snake eyes, “Oh! Oh!”. (OS OS = bone bone = bonbon). To think of thin ink as one bone, in Catalonian, “bones” is also “ossos”, and “osos” is Spanish for “bears”, just as the V bears the cross by becoming X, if it stares too long at its own reflexion.

L’AME ET SON DIEU illustrates the very act of expelling an utterance.

LA MAISON DIEU, illustrates the very act of spelling an uterus.

A fig leaf is a wedge, a perfect cotter to mend a cut. A wedge is to an edge as whole us to a hole or a world is to a word. The mandorla’s edge is an Italian “bordo” or an Spanish “borde” that may very well bleed bordeaux. A W is also an X, just as an ex is a double you standing on the sidelines. The figure we see inside the mandorla, her otHERwordLINES concealing her lines, may not be wearing a fig leaf but she is the mandorla’s fig leaf, the tingling that teases the uterus into utterance. To think that women are doors is to think of women’s ardour, the dream that sets the fool after the world.

Through the mandorla LE MONDE conflates Courbet’s  L’Origine du monde to LEMPEREVR‘s shield; a blazon in which the song of “blah” displays the charms of mystery in the form of a parlour (parlor/parler/parlare/palavering) game. The outline of that patch of hair that marks the pudendum, the upper V in the X around the spot, is called a ‘escutcheon’; a word that also names the outline of a coat of arms, the space where the rebus names the knight. “Rebus” anagrams into “rubes”, turning a visual charade into a bumpkin. (The word “bumpkin” turns into a pumpkin by letting the clock run backwards: b = q, and flipping it toward the right: q = p). The rube lacks the capacity to read a rebus, but both rube and knight would be glad to rub one out at night. The word ‘escutcheon’ -a mirror that have us seeing sexual intercourse as jousting, as a bumping of shields- was given to us by Alfred Jarry, who never used it himself. In his infinite wisdom Jarry wrote in French knowing that by doing so he would eventually be translated into English where we will find the word ‘escutcheon’. Everything seems to suggest that he did so knowingly. He had the plans for a time machine.





le cri vain


le cry vain         [the vain cry]


MJ: Enrique would also like to mention that he only shares his work once a week through his private email list. He says, “People just have to email me, telling me with one os the fastest letter in the alphabet.” Contact him at: enrique.eenriquez@gmail.com

To learn more about Enrique and other poets who will be in the anthology, click here.