The U.S.A. has a new Poet Laureate, Kay Ryan. And, she tells everyone she started her career by writing poems about tarot cards.

This is from an interview in the Marin Independent Journal:

Ryan decided to pursue writing seriously after having an epiphany while bicycling up the Rocky Mountains while on a 4,000-mile, cross-country bicycle trip in 1976. When she returned home, she set to work. She began using a deck of Tarot cards as an exercise, forcing herself to write a poem about the subject of whichever card she drew at random. Some of the subjects were harder than others.

“Death, I’ve never minded that so much,” Ryan says. “Love, I minded because it’s just so icky, so overdone. I just didn’t want to touch it.”

And here’s from Tulsa World:

“Still shying away from difficut themes, Ryan assigned herself a task: She would get out a pack of tarot cards, turn one card over every day and write a poem from it. ‘So I had to start dealing with these abstractions like love, death, the wheel of fortune.'”

But Kay’s not the only one to use Tarot to inspire poetry. I taught a couple of workshops for the International Women’s Writing Guild conference retreat in California and I sometimes have my classes write tarot haiku. In my first book, Tarot for Your Self, I included tarot poems by Robert Creeley, John Weiners, Diane Wakoski, Diane DiPrima, Judy Grahn and Philip Lamantia and quoted poet Aethelaid Eldridge, who gave his student a tarot deck, saying, “Here, every good poet should know the Tarot inside and out.”

To learn quite a bit more about tarot and poetry, read this fascinating conversation between poets Alice Notley and CAConrad at PhillySound: new poetry. The tarot discussion begins almost halfway down with Notley’s description of a tarot reading by Ted Berrigan in 1969. It continues with Notley’s telling us how she’s used tarot cards in writing classes, inspired by a class Michael McClure taught at the Naropa Institute. The article goes into lots more about Conrad’s and Notley’s use of tarot. Here’s my favorite quote from Notley:

“I’m not an expert in the deck at all. My interest lies somewhere near a sense that words are like tarot cards, and that a poem manipulates unpredictable depths with its words. . . . I like the tarot because it works like poetry and because you don’t really have to ‘believe in’ anything. It’s there to be used. The symbols are remarkably durable and beautiful; they float out to encompass all kinds of meanings.”

Check out my earlier posts on tarot and poetry, here, here and here. And, thanks to The Tarot Channel where Eva Kay Ryan’s tarot connection.