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Hoa Nguyen & Airea D. Matthews Talk Tarot at Catapult

By Harriet Staff


What is it about poets and tarot cards? At Catapult, Trevor Ketner is on a quest to find out, and what better sources for this inquiry than two poet-practitioners of the tarot, Hoa Nguyen and Airea D. Matthews. After learning how Matthews and Ngyuen prepare for their readings, Ketner wonders “what it is specifically about tarot that is so appealing to poets. It seems to make sense but I’m not entirely sure why.”

[Hoa Nguyen:] For me it is about inviting alterity—an external other to engage. It feels very much like the force of creativity, which always feels like a state of receptivity. Poets like Jack Spicer and his “Magic Circle” were interested in receptivity of the external voices—Spicer and his poetics of speaking with aliens or a radio broadcast, of a kind of external dictation.

[Airea D. Matthews:] Tarot helps tremendously in image-making. I liken the cards to the woodcut image employed in early printmaking; each rendering cuts away everything but the lines and shapes intended to be interpreted. There’s a certain sense of directness, which makes each reading feel very much like a dialogue—but not a contrived dialogue, not small talk. Much like poetry, tarot cuts to the heart of what matters most using the image as currency.

[Trevor Ketner:] Of course. The image is so central. There’s the givenness of the image in both tarot and poetry, the way it is, in a way, gifted to us from something outside of ourselves, a certain generosity accepted by the querent or poet or reader.

I think it’s the communal intimacy of tarot, or occult practices more generally, and poetry both that makes them such long-lasting parts of culture the world over—some part of us that is triggered, the part that wants to know and be known. There is something familiar in the relationship between myself when I’m reading the cards and the querent; it’s very much like what I feel like when I’m writing what I know to be a good or resonant poem. There’s something being overheard, being eavesdropped on.

Also, receptivity puts me in mind of James Merrill, as well, in Changing Light at Sandover, though, of course, that involves a Ouija board and not tarot.

Continue at Catapult.

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Posted in Poetry News on Friday, February 10th, 2017 by Harriet Staff.