Today an interview with Reb Livingston, who began the Bibilomancy
Oracle Project in May 2012. Be sure to
consult the Oracle throughout the interview for your own personal
prophecy. Just click the orb to the left or on the link at the end of the interview.
I am continually fascinated by this idea of kismet, technology and unexpected ways of experiencing poetry. Can you discuss your impetus behind the Bibliomancy Oracle project? How did you decide which poems to include?
R: Bibliomancy is the use of books in divination. The concept is that literature contains “truths” and speak to matters of great importance. People have been using books for divination for hundreds of years. Ask a question, pick a book at random, open it to a random page, place your finger down, again, at random—and there’s your answer. According to Wikipedia, the term Bibliomancy was first recorded in 1753. The term Stichomancy, divination by lines of verse in books taken at hazard, was first recorded in 1693. Bibliomancy is definitely old technology.
I’m still selecting prophecies to include. Every week I add new prophecies and intend on doing so for some time to come. When selecting a line or several (I never include an entire poem), I try to anticipate it being an answer to the endless number of questions posed to an Oracle. It’s all about interpretation. I try to avoid obvious horrific prophecies, like “you will die in a fiery crash” – but something seemingly mild might not be so mild depending on the question and questioner’s perception. There are some very positive responses, some less positive and some seemingly ambiguous. Sometimes a question is answered with another question. Probably because the questioner is asking the wrong question.
I’ve always been interested in Tarot and dream interpretations and have used other online oracles for years. None of the online oracles I came across satisfied what I was looking for. Some gave shallow answers, others were rambling and disorganized. I wanted to make an online bibliomancy oracle because probably 75% of poems that I read are online. I noticed that Tumblr had a “random” feature, so that made it easy to create the oracle. I spent a month creating a few hundred prophecy posts and then made a page with big teal button linked to the “random” URL. That’s how it works. Tumblr randomly selects the questioner’s prophecy from the database of poem fragments I added. Today there’s almost 1000 prophecies and it’s becoming increasingly eerily jarring in its responses. I’d say accurate, but I’ll leave that up to everyone else to decide.
Please share one—or more—of your favorite stories of kismet regarding the Bibliomancy Oracle project.
R: My favorite bibliomancy example is this from Wikipedia: “English poet Robert Browning used this method to ask about the fate of his enchantment to Elizabeth Barret (later known as Elizabeth Barret Browning). He was at first disappointed to choose the book "Cerutti’s Italian Grammar", but on randomly opening it his eyes fell on the following sentence: ‘if we love in the other world as we do in this, I shall love thee to eternity' (which was a translation exercise).”
There are many, but I’ll just share two from the Oracle:
A friend sprained her finger and asked if her hand would feel better soon. She got this response:
And once you move them, one by one, palm circles through
the grime and cup your hands round your faces, finally able
to see through—
from “Ghosts That Need Reminding” by Dana Levin
She showed the prophecy to her husband. He tried to explain it away by saying the Oracle must have searched for keywords and matched up the answer. But you don’t type in the question, you just say or think it. No parlor tricks with the Bibliomancy Oracle.
Also, on the evening of the first presidential debate I asked the Oracle for its prophecy on the event and it responded with this:
Colonialism and business
Mark their 500th anniversary
the world is free
It’s Miller Time.
from “IT’S MILLER TIME” by Victor Hernandez Cruz
One of the many things to love about the Bibliomancy Oracle is its awesome sense of humor.
Yes! And, of course, kismet! Check this out. When I asked the Bibliomancy Oracle about our energies convening for this interview this was my reply:
You will. You will you will. Ah you will. from “Tea” by Mairéad Byrne.
R: And we have, have we not?
Indeed, we have! What is your long-term vision for the Oracle?
R: The long-term vision is the current vision: for the oracle to exist, operate as an oracle and grow with possible responses. On a lesser note, it also introduces poems to people outside of the poetry community using the oracle. The oracle is more approachable, less insular, than a literary magazine or anthology. Certainly there are people who aren't coming to it for the poetry aspect as much as the prophecy aspect -- the same reasons people use Tarot, astrology, psychics, runes, ouija, etc. I can't say what, if anything, could come from that for poetry's sake. But people using the oracle are invested in reading and considering the poem fragments they're given.
What have you read lately that has grabbed your attention?
R: Recently I’m reading graphic novels, my most recent favorite is The Sandman series by Neil Gaiman. Recent poetry collections that really wowed me are TRISM by Rebecca Loudon, China Cowboy by Kim Gek Lin Short and Culture of One by Alice Notley. I loved and am absolutely envious at Kirsten Kaschock’s novel, Sleight. I’m seeking darker reading these days.
Right now, I have to know. Is your heart a calm potato?
R: No. My heart is an indoor wave pool, frothing. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I’ve saved the last word for the Oracle. When I posed the question: Is there anything else you would like to add to our interview? Here is what the Oracle had to say:
stop running from the gift
slow down to catch up with it
from “Muse & Drudge [why these blues come from us]” by Harryette Mullen
And now, to Reb. When you posed this exact question, what was the Oracle’s response for you?
Conrad longs to be Carmenized, but googles
the night away with many, with none.
from ”His Affair” by Michael Gushue
Wow! Leave it to the Oracle to end with a mention of technology! Hmmm, confluence? Thank you, Bibliomancy Oracle. Thank you, Reb.
To reach the Bibliomancy Oracle:
Be sure to share your divine message in the comments below.
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To follow the Oracle on Twitter: @BiblioOracle
Reb Livingston is the curator of the Bibliomancy Oracle and author of God Damsel (No Tell Books 2010) and Your Ten Favorite Words (Coconut Books 2007). She lives in Northern Virginia with her husband and son.
Tomorrow, a wrap up of our week in technology and kismet, including a sampler of print publications that are devoting issues to social media/social networking poetry. And a little trip into the po-tech electric.
--Julie E. Bloemeke