The Poet Tarot
The Poet Tarot (deck in cloth bag)
The Poet Tarot Guidebook: A Deck of Creative Exploration
Two Sylvias Press, 2014
Reviewed (and shuffled) by Kathleen Kirk, EIL Poetry Editor
For Christmas I received the yearned-for Poet Tarot deck and guidebook published by Two Sylvias Press, part of a Kickstarter campaign and now available at the Two Sylvias website, where you can view a video that displays several of the cards laid upon a sweet old-fashioned typewriter!
I love this whole project, clearly a collaboration, as no authors are credited. Like The Daily Poet, another Two Sylvias Press book, this one by Kelli Russell Agodon and Martha Silano, The Poet Tarot Guidebook is full of enthusiastic and creative prompts for poetry. As the guidebook itself makes very clear, it doesn’t teach you how to read tarot cards—you’d have to know how to do that already or seek out further instruction—but it does give you various ways to use the actual deck to stimulate new works or to think about your creative life. The prompts are adaptable for people in the visual and performing arts, as well, and for the creative process in general.
The cards are charming collages, some with portraits of poets on them, very sturdy, easy to hold in the hand and even to shuffle. Mine are already shuffled to leave some cards upside down, and I’ll take those as a “challenge” should I turn them up in a traditional tarot reading. The cards come in a translucent yellow-gold cloth bag with a drawstring.
The book gives mini-bigraphies of the main poets, who line up with the major arcana, and others, who turn up as Muses, Quills, Mentors, or Letterpresses. These are all dead poets, and reading the bios is a good refresher course in poetry. It was fun to find a sweet-faced Elizabeth Bishop turn up, crowned, as the Queen of Quills, opposite T.S. Eliot as the King of Quills, looking a tad sheepish and uncomfortable in his crown. Gertrude Stein is of course the Queen of Mentors, and Theodore Roethke, a beloved teacher as well as poet, the King of Mentors. Under each poet’s name is a pithy quoted phrase, such as “my heart is in my pocket” for Frank O’Hara. The style of the guidebook imitates other friendly tarot guidebooks, or daily horoscopes, inviting you to reflect on where you are right now in your creative life in response to the card you draw. To stay with Frank:
If you’ve picked Frank O’Hara from the deck, you are being asked to explore your authenticity and whether your creative passions are finding their optimum expression.
Indeed, always a good thing to explore!
When John Donne knocks on your door, know that you will be pondering all things “fatherly” in your creative life.
Good to know! Along with the best acting advice ever, “If somebody knocks on the door, answer it.”
If you are holding Anne Sexton in your hand, be prepared to confront the archetypal feminine that resides within you.
You can sense the fun in this, alongside the serious challenge.
Whenever you draw Emily Dickinson from the deck, you are being invited to a period of creative soul-searching.
At the end of each inviting biography, written to connect to you, the reader, is a set of concrete suggestions, and there are more ideas for how to use the cards at the back of book. I loved finding Walt Whitman, who revised and reprinted Leaves of Grass as his life’s work, as the last card and the King of Letterpresses, bearded and looking quite comfortable with his crown, above the phrase “till you rivet and publish.” The collaborative authors of The Poet Tarot ask you, in connection with Whitman, but in evocation of Mary Oliver, “What will you want to revise on your deathbed—a poem or your entire life?”
The Poet Tarot—deck and book—are excellent poet-and-artist tools for composition, revision, reflection, and renewal. Sheer delight.
Two Sylvias Press people at EIL:
The two Sylvias above are Sylvia Beach and Sylvia Plath, who are the two Sylvias of Two Sylvias Press. The bearded fellow without his crown is Walt Whitman.