The U.S.A. has a new Poet Laureate, Kay Ryan. And, she tells everyone she started her career by writing poems about tarot cards.
This is from an interview in the Marin Independent Journal:
Ryan decided to pursue writing seriously after having an epiphany while bicycling up the Rocky Mountains while on a 4,000-mile, cross-country bicycle trip in 1976. When she returned home, she set to work. She began using a deck of Tarot cards as an exercise, forcing herself to write a poem about the subject of whichever card she drew at random. Some of the subjects were harder than others.
“Death, I’ve never minded that so much,” Ryan says. “Love, I minded because it’s just so icky, so overdone. I just didn’t want to touch it.”
And here’s from Tulsa World:
“Still shying away from difficut themes, Ryan assigned herself a task: She would get out a pack of tarot cards, turn one card over every day and write a poem from it. ‘So I had to start dealing with these abstractions like love, death, the wheel of fortune.'”
But Kay’s not the only one to use Tarot to inspire poetry. I taught a couple of workshops for the International Women’s Writing Guild conference retreat in California and I sometimes have my classes write tarot haiku. In my first book, Tarot for Your Self, I included tarot poems by Robert Creeley, John Weiners, Diane Wakoski, Diane DiPrima, Judy Grahn and Philip Lamantia and quoted poet Aethelaid Eldridge, who gave his student a tarot deck, saying, “Here, every good poet should know the Tarot inside and out.”
To learn quite a bit more about tarot and poetry, read this fascinating conversation between poets Alice Notley and CAConrad at PhillySound: new poetry. The tarot discussion begins almost halfway down with Notley’s description of a tarot reading by Ted Berrigan in 1969. It continues with Notley’s telling us how she’s used tarot cards in writing classes, inspired by a class Michael McClure taught at the Naropa Institute. The article goes into lots more about Conrad’s and Notley’s use of tarot. Here’s my favorite quote from Notley:
“I’m not an expert in the deck at all. My interest lies somewhere near a sense that words are like tarot cards, and that a poem manipulates unpredictable depths with its words. . . . I like the tarot because it works like poetry and because you don’t really have to ‘believe in’ anything. It’s there to be used. The symbols are remarkably durable and beautiful; they float out to encompass all kinds of meanings.”