Look, I’m a multi-generational Northern California native. I have taken a ten year old to see a shaman. (She wanted to know more about her past lives. What was I supposed to do, say no?) I don’t think craniosacral therapy is weird or that cosmology is a pseudoscience. And I never use the word “different” as a vague insult, as in “Well, that’s different,” or more horrifyingly in the grammatical context used by a boy from Minnesota I dated when I was a whelp (“I like San Francisco. It’s more different than other places.”) Mike: dude I’m sorry but the word is weird or, you know, diverse. Still love ya, hon.
And while I do not pick friends according to their birth charts or do my grocery shopping based on my daily horoscope, I am always up for a psychic going over. So when Stacey Harwood put out a call for a poet to submit to the occult ministrations of Benebell Wen, a master tarot reader planning a week of blog posts about tarot and writing, I jumped at the chance to have my book read.
No, not “read.” Read. As in, do not send me the manuscript, it will cloud my intuition, just tell me the title and I will take it from there.
Anyone who missed Ms. Wen’s post of 2/6 can check it out here. On my honor, the woman knew the title of the manuscript, my name and birthday, and that I was playing with multiple senses of the phrase “Romance Language.”
Your likely question: well, did she “get” it?
Big time. If the finished book is understood that clearly by half its readers I will consider myself a raging success.
How did she do it? I’m damned if I know.
Is it going to “help” me write the book? Hell yes. This manuscript is outlined, with about a quarter of its poems actually written in some recognizable form, and placeholder notes for most of the rest. Oddly, and I did not mention this to Benebell, it takes its structural cues from James Merrill’s Ouija Board epic The Changing Light at Sandover, about which I have written here before, so the concept of the occult, and oblique psychic messaging, are already embedded in it (she unerringly went straight for the Knight of Cups, a card associated with prophecy and, as she points out, a character who wears winged head-and-footwear (she did not know the book opens with an invocation to Hermes or Mercury, god of oratory, messaging, thievery, deception, wit and line-crossing, and the only member of the Pantheon who can walk in and out of Hades at will). This book is, in many ways, about walking in and out of Hades (whether at will is debatable) and it is most certainly about boundaries and boundary-breaking, touching on subjects ranging from physiology to metaphysics, infidelity to unrequited love, mythology to morphology.
“This project bleeds with pain,” she wrote. I don’t think I’m committing an awful spoiler if I note that her comments on “Marriage gone awry” and “new beginnings” are all too literal; also bleeding comes up in medical contexts more than once. Thin boundaries between the living and dead and between universes and dimensions are a theme (I was so bad at math and physics in school that I feel utterly at liberty to corrupt and torque the beautiful elegant work of luminaries like Nils Bohr, Max Planck, Heisenberg and Ramanjujan; I’m outrageously glib with quantum entanglement and weak and strong forces, for example, and that thing about the outcome of an experiment being changed by whether it is observed or not? On it).
The Devil, where the lovers are chained… yeah. Let’s just say, yeah. And that Star card? Let’s just say I’ve had a weird feeling that I’m going to have some kind of breakthrough in how I think about writing before this thing is over.
Actually, there wasn’t a card that didn’t resonate.
Benebell called it a potential “roadmap” and I think it can definitely be exactly that. It was a bizarre (and amazing) experience to feel instantly understood (as she points out in my reading, that Nine of Pentacles speaks to an often unfulfilled longing to be understood, or, given that birds are singers, “heard,”) by a force that seemed to know more about me than I did. I know that I can actually look at this spread when I’m stuck, and find symbols and layers of significance in it that will propel the project forward. Even if the project didn’t happen to draw on metaphysics and the occult as much as it does, even if this were a series of poems about sparrows or social unrest or The Rainforest, I’m pretty sure The Cards would have caught on. After all, the symbols are always already out there. Sometimes we just need them pointed out to us. The outcome of an experiment does, in a statistically meaningful way, change based on whether it is observed – and not only that, but also whether it is observed with focused intention on a particular result.
Empiricism = nil. Tarot = 1.
Thank you for this. What a wonderful new lens to look through.
(Ed note: Find all of Benebell Wen's BAP tarot posts here. Read more about her work here. Amy Glynn's work appears widely in journals and anthologies (including The Best American Poetry 2010 and 2012). Her book A Modern Herbal was released by Measure Press in November 2013. -- sdh)