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Bent Sørensen Aalborg University Denmark TAROT & THE POETS.

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Presentation on theme: "Bent Sørensen Aalborg University Denmark TAROT & THE POETS."— Presentation transcript:

1 Bent Sørensen Aalborg University Denmark TAROT & THE POETS

2 Tarot & the Poets – why and how? Academics know little about the Tarot – Tarot enthusiasts are not always academics or well-versed in poetry: Why not for once bring the two communities together in an informal, yet scholarly informed manner..? “…to restore the spiritual dignity of Tarot…” – perhaps The best vehicle for this might well be poetry, as an accepted canonical feature of higher education, as well as a means of exploring the Self. Poets of the 20 th C. have used Tarot extensively, whether employing the Tarot imagery generally, describing Tarot readings and practitioners, or interpreting in words specific cards or spreads from Tarot decks. Today I’ll focus on a few American poets as examples…

3 Tarot & the poets – a selective American corpus Sylvia Plath Anne Sexton Diane di Prima Alice Notley Ted Berrigan Philip Whalen John Wieners Philip Lamantia Robert Creeley Charles Olson T.S. Eliot

4 Sylvia Plath (1932 - 1963)

5 Plath keywords & works Suicide Ted Hughes marriage Father obsession Personal history, confessionality… ----- The Bell Jar (novel) The Ariel poems Daddy: “With my gypsy ancestress and my weird luck/And my Tarock pack and my Tarock pack”

6 Anne Sexton (1928 - 1974)

7 Sexton keywords Suicide after many years of therapy Bipolar disorder Confessionality, examination of sexuality in her poetry 1967 Pulitzer Prize winner ---- Live or Die Love Poems The Death Notebooks

8 Anne Sexton: Live Well, death's been here for a long time -- it has a hell of a lot to do with hell and suspicion of the eye and the religious objects and how I mourned them when they were made obscene by my dwarf-heart's doodle. Here, all along, thinking I was a killer, anointing myself daily with my little poisons. But no. I'm an empress. I wear an apron. My typewriter writes. It didn't break the way it warned. Even crazy, I'm as nice as a chocolate bar. Even with the witches' gymnastics they trust my incalculable city, my corruptible bed.

9 Diane di Prima (b. 1934)

10 Di Prima keywords & works Beat Sexual revolution – playful confessions Feminism ---- This Kind of Bird Flies Backwards Revolutionary Letters Loba

11 Di Prima: Princess of Disks

12 Princess of Disks, part II

13 Thoth Princess

14 Alice Notley (b. 1945)

15 Notley keywords & works Embodies the life of a migrant poet – from Arizona to California, Chicago, New York and Paris – to name but a few of the places she has lived. Friend of Frank O’Hara and fellow traveller of the New York School poets (60s/70s) Married to Ted Berrigan ---- 25 volumes of poetry, Pulitzer finalist “Two of Swords”

16 Two of Swords


18 Alice Notley & the Tarot "Well, Ted and the tarot. Ted was living in a single room in a boarding house in Ann Arbor in fall, 1969. It was midnight and I was waiting for Ted to arrive from somewhere, I was sitting on the floor of the room (only furniture a mattress, maybe a chair) with John Godfrey, visiting from New York. He and I were poetry babies, Ted was older. So the downstairs door, it turns out, locks after midnight; Ted couldn't get in. The window opened and there he was at the window, he'd climbed up the fire escape -- third floor room. He had a brand new Rider tarot deck, god knows where he'd gotten it, I can't remember. And he proposed to tell our fortunes. I'd never seen a tarot deck before. I guess I knew that there were different fortune-telling methods though. What method will you use? I asked. I'm going to make up my own method, he said. Then he told me and John, in turn, to select the cards we liked best and he'd use those. I had enough sense to select about ten, but John fell in love with all of them and couldn't narrow it down. He finally got the number down to 22 cards. Then Ted told our fortunes, but I don't remember what they were."

19 Ted Berrigan (1934 - 1983)

20 Berrigan keywords & works Innovator of the sonnet form New York School (2 nd gen. affiliate) Inspired by the hybridity of The Waste Land Humorous Many collaborative projects ---- The Sonnets (1964)

21 Ted Berrigan: The Fool (from Real Life)

22 Philip Whalen (1923 - 2002)

23 Whalen Keywords & works Zen master and poet Spent years in Japan Beat – friend of Gary Snyder and Jack Kerouac ---- Every Day On Bear’s Head

24 Whalen: Card #21

25 Le Monde

26 John Wieners (1934 - 2002)

27 John Wieners keywords & works San Francisco Poetry Renaissance (late 50s) Mental illness Homosexuality Friend of Charles Olson Collaborator w. painters such as Francesco Clemente ---- The Hotel Wentley Poems Ace of Pentacles Nerves

28 Ace of Pentacles, 1964

29 Wieners: Le Chariot

30 Le Chariot

31 Philip Lamantia (1927 - 2005)

32 Lamantia keywords & works Surrealist affiliate, friend of Breton SF Renaissance/Beat Gen. fellow traveller Reveler and drug addict Late convert to Catholicism ---- Ekstasis Narcotica Meadowlark West

33 Lamantia: Oblique and Direct

34 Robert Creeley (1926 - 2005)

35 Creeley keywords & works Black Mountain College San Francisco Renaissance / Beat Gen. Close friend and correspondent w. Charles Olson Battled alcoholism Lost one eye in early childhood ---- Le Fou For Love 50 other volumes

36 Creeley: Zero (from Numbers)

37 Creeley: Zero

38 Creeley: Zero (using Waite as afterword)

39 Robert Indiana: Zero

40 Charles Olson (1910 - 1970)

41 Olson keywords & works Black Mountain College Gloucester, Mass. 6’ 8’’ tall – a towering presence Did not write poetry before the age of 35 Battled alcoholism, and a strong fatalist tendency Projective verse “Archeologist of morning” Maximus – mythopoeic poetry sequence ---- The Maximus Poems Y & X

42 A collaboration with Italian artist Corrado Cagli, who also introduced Olson to the Tarot and gave him his first deck – a Marseilles type. Contains only 5 poems and 5 drawings by Cagli Cagli’s drawings are based on the poems, but can be seen as versions of the cards filtered through Olson’s words Several other early Olson poems are ekphrases (specific descriptions/explications) of Tarot cards – some very simplistic ones, others obscure. These poems include: Bagatto; The Green Man; The Fool; Double, double, root and branch…; X to the Nth; The Moebius Strip, a.o.

43 Y & X (1948-9)

44 Bagatto (dedicated to Cagli)

45 Bagatto, cont’d

46 The Fool, first stanza

47 “Double, double, root and branch…”


49 Olson: The Green Man (from Y & X)

50 Cagli: The Lion (from Y & X)

51 Critics missing the point…

52 Thomas Stearns Eliot (1888 - 1965)

53 Eliot keywords & works Born in St. Louis, emigrated to Britain 1914 Read philosophy, classics and languages Worked days in a bank Converted to Church of England Grew increasingly conservative with age Was markedly misogynist and anti-Semitic on occasion Nobel Literature Laureate, 1948 ---- The Waste Land (1922) Four Quartets (1945) The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock (1915) The Hollow Men (1925)

54 The Waste Land A fragmented, mythopoeic poem, attempting to shore up something of value against the coming ruin Contains a multiplicity of voices, several of which are women’s voices Includes a sequence detailing a visit to and reading with Madame Sosostris, “known to be the wisest woman in Europe” This interlude is part of The Burial of the Dead, the first of five numbered sections of the poem

55 The Madame Sosostris sequence

56 Eliot’s footnote on the Tarot

57 Madame Sosostris’s spread – version 1

58 Madame Sosostris’s spread – version 2

59 In conclusion 20 th C. American poets have used the Tarot for their own ends in multiple ways Eliot satirizes the need for clairvoyance as the dark ages recur and we toil through the waste land of civilization, knowing not from whence we came, nor where we are going Olson believed in the cards to the extent that he claimed to abandon them when they accurately foretold his mother’s death Plath uses the reference to the “Tarock” to paint a picture of Central Europe as the origin of suffering and a potential alternative heritage Sexton mirrored her own bipolarity in the dichotomies of the Major Arcana Beat poets used Tarot as one of many ways to re-open the doors of perception The best of these poets (Creeley and Olson) integrated the Tarot in their personal and universal re-mythologization of the West (America) as a new cradle of civilization and spiritual awakening

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