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Stars, Poetry—Part I: Aries, Taurus, Gemini

By Hoa Nguyen


I approach the language of the stars as symbolic patterns, and use astrology and other symbolic systems as forms of advanced pattern recognition. Here is the first of four meditations where I work my way through a wheel of influence in groups of threes after the modalities.

The three modalities in astrology are Cardinal, Fixed, and Mutable. They describe how the sign operates.

Cardinal signs initiate action. The Sun’s entry into these signs coincides with the equinoxes and solstices. Cardinal signs are direct, assertive, forceful, and enterprising.

Fixed signs stabilize and secure the energy begun by the Cardinal signs. Fixed signs represent determination, power, striving after set goals, pride, and reliability.

Mutable signs adapt and disperse the element. Mutable signs are suggestible, resourceful, flexible, drawn to variety, and move with change.


Cardinal Fire
Ruled by Mars
March 21 – April 20
Tarot: The Emperor

Aries arrives at the start of spring, full of passion. The Aries clan are the fire starters and igniters. I instantly hear Baudelaire (April 9) shouting, “Make life beautiful! Make life beautiful!” while throwing rocks at the “Bad Glazier” in his Paris Spleen.

To meet Anne Waldman (April 2) is to feel the fire of her mind, determination, and big-heartedness. She founded the Poetry Project on St. Marks Place, Angel Hair Books, and Naropa University. By example, she inspired me to curate a reading series, start a poetry-publishing venture, and make an independent writing school for poetry. She taught me to be fierce and generous, to stand next to the men in the writing and to take it all on. The Emperor card is all about being at ease with the outer and inner “father”—how to feel at ease and manifest. She wrote, “fire that cleans / fire that catches / fire burns hotter as I go” (Fast Speaking Woman).

More Aries that I want to mention:

Edward Dorn (like Waldman, also April 2!): his poem “The Air of June Sings” makes me weep every time. It opens: “Quietly and while at rest on the trim grass I have gazed,/ admonished myself for having never been here/ at the grave-side and read the names of my Time Wanderers.”

Anselm Hollo (April 12) taught me the art and new possibilities of poetic forms at Naropa, Summer 1994, in workshop on sonnets via Sir Thomas Wyatt, John Keats, Ted Berrigan, Bernadette Mayer, and Edwin Denby. When he writes, “It was good the labor of building a citadel for the muse,” I think of this, of sonnets.

Bob Kaufman (April 18) showed me a way to approach poetry with strategies of sampling, protest, strangeness, jazz, and blues. “At once I am there at the great sun, feeling the great sun of the center. Hearing the Lorca music in the endless solitude of crackling blueness.” 


Fixed Earth
Ruled by Venus
April 21 – May 21
Tarot: The Hierophant

Taurus connects to the material realm, bringing ideas and communications into form. It’s not surprising that Louise Glück wrote in the language of flowers and in the voice of flowers; Taurus connect strongly to the earth and make excellent gardeners. Steadfast, they are not afraid of work and have tremendous focus. As makers, they render things solid; like the Hierophant, they bridge between the spirit world and the physical world.

My teacher at New College of California San Francisco, Lyn Hejinian (May 17), made bridges for me between poetry and prose (notably in her class on Gertrude Stein) and between poetics and theory (she taught us contemporary theory in a series she named The Language of Paradise). She also bridged communities, introducing writers from her students at Berkeley with those of us at NCOC, creating opportunities for rich exchange.

I love Bernadette Mayer (May 12)’s essay where she writes smartly and wistfully on the Taurean love of farming. It ends “Steadfast as any farmer and fixed as the stars
Tenants of a vision we rent out endlessly.” I wrote a poem for Mayer called “Thinking of Bernadette” because I was thinking about money all day and Mayer is often concerned with the matter of money—very Taurus.

Back in 1997, I think, I sent Kenward Elmslie (April 27) a copy of my chapbook Dark with a letter where I mention that I’d soon be in New York City. He wrote back a page-long response inviting us to brunch with tickets as his guest to the opera Lizzie Borden, for which he was the librettist. A generous Taurus artist, he is gifted in collage and the poem-song. From his poem-song “No Liquor in the House”:

Lizzie Murder Music included,
cue accident. Loose teeth

(long run) affordable.
Affable Ishy, handsome rambler.

Despite familial dread (plot)
stuck with bus & burb Macheath.

Prissy? He clarifies butter!
Death Breath time scrambler.


Mutable Air
Ruled by Mercury
May 22 – June21
Tarot: The Lovers

I’m in love with Federico García Lorca (June 5)’s duende. Muse as angel and daemon. It would take a mercurial Gemini to name the fire-earth-blood spirit that allows us to translate messages from elsewhere in the process of making. Depicted as the trump card The Lovers in the tarot, it’s the archetype of union with supposed opposites, soul work through union, struggle, and love.

“Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes.” Walt Whitman (May 31), the independent self-publishing poet, has the expansive, effusive traits of a Gemini.

Known as both scholar and poet, Susan Howe manages the multitudes neatly. Whenever I teach Stein (an airy Aquarius like me) and Dickinson (fiery Sagittarius) together, I include her book My Emily Dickinson as the seam that binds them together. In her introduction she writes:

In the college library I use there are two writers whose work refuses to conform to the Anglo-American literary traditions these institutions perpetuate. Emily Dickinson and Gertrude Stein are clearly among the most innovative precursors of modernist poetry and prose, yet to this day canonical criticism from Harold Bloom to Hugh Kenner persists in dropping their names and ignoring their work. Why these two pathfinders were women, why American–are questions too often lost in the penchant for biographical detail that “lovingly” muffles their voices. One, a recluse, worked without encouragement or any real interest from her family and her peers. Her poems were unpublished in her lifetime. The other, an influential patron of the arts, eagerly courted publicity, thrived on company, and lived to enjoy her own literary celebrity. Dickinson and Stein meet each other along paths of the Self that begin and end in contradiction. This surface scission is deceptive. Writing was the world of each woman. In a world of exaltation of his imagination, feminine inscription seems single and sudden.

Howe’s ability to join two very different writers—and to move between scholarship and poetry (and somehow to unite them into one), seems the essence of the Gemini’s ability to unify the moving mind.

Allen Ginsberg (June 3) used the messenger aspect of Gemini as consummate promoter of poetry. Gemini, the great talker of the zodiac, also can be seen as the psychopomp Hermes/Mercury, who conversed with the dead. Ginsberg conversed with dead poets such as Whitman and Blake. Conductor of souls, Ginsberg performed his Kaddish, writing, “I’ve been up all night, talking, talking, reading the Kaddish aloud, listening to Ray Charles blues shout blind on the phonograph/ the rhythm the rhythm—and your memory in my head three years after—And read Adonais’ last triumphant stanzas aloud—wept, realizing how we suffer.”


Parts I, II, III, and IV can be found here.

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Posted in Featured Blogger on Monday, May 12th, 2014 by Hoa Nguyen.