Tarot-inspired poetry can be a vehicle for ritual, reflection, joy, and for release. Creating it adds a new layer to the act of divination, requiring introspection and expression. Metaphor and mythology feed the imagination in tarot readings and when tarot is used for poetry.
A poet’s strongest tool, arguably, is metaphor, which helps interpret the significance of tarot cards. The sea on the Rider-Waite-Smith two of pentacles represents a bumpy, busy emotional or subconscious experience informs a card reader, and it is just this work that a poet does, with or without cards. Do not be afraid to consider those undertones in your cards, as poetry often draws from our depths, and the subtlest message of each card is easily fodder for poetry.
Poetry – and creative writing in general – provides opportunity for a personal journey. The results of creative, conscious efforts have no room for judgement. To explore your words is the means and the reward. Poetry is a unique language that condenses the larger universe and plays with anything the imagination offers. Poetry is allowed to roam and wander, or it may creep and crawl and gather details other forms of language will not. The poet is often a navigator, but in this style of writing, one should always let mood, inspiration, spirit or whatever you wish to call it, lead you.
This is why, in addition to reading some contemporary poets (try Mary Oliver or Billy Collins. The Best American Poetry anthologies are also a great resource), one may wish to set the stage for writing poetry by lighting candles or incense, or playing music or meditative sounds. Whether a first-timer, a veteran or something in between, try beginning your writing session as you would a spiritual ritual or yoga. Call a muse or other deity to help guide you. Any words that pull you into your sacred space are also possible first lines to your poems.
How to write tarot poetry
You can choose a deck that you feel an intimate relationship with, or one you want to better understand. If you feel very adventurous, there is much to gain from using a deck that challenges you, one with imagery that baffles or challenges you, though it may take some effort to feel satisfied with the poetry.
One basic approach to writing a tarot poem relies on the imagery within one card. With or without your mood established with candles or incense, music or meditative melody, do a simple shuffle and draw and select the first symbol that emerges and begin writing.
Don’t hesitate to write a list to start your writing journey. Lists can be powerful and stand as their own poems – take for example the red banner in The Sun. This poem stems from descriptions of the image and lays claim to a more general idea of what it may symbolize at the end:
The Banner (The Sun)
Red, blood’s rich mania,
in the small grasp
of the child
in a brightness
that is too much.
Expand on this method. Look at two symbols, and treat the card as a journalist, asking Who, What, When, Where and Why. Using the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot, here’s how I approached the orb and scepter in The Emperor:
The Emperor’s Hands
Perhaps because of custom,
or he didn’t want to be caught fidgeting
in front of such rough mountains,
he holds compassion for the world,
golden appled left-hand,
ankh tall, straight,
reimagining all of life
in his right.
Yes, in this example, I left out a sense of when: a poet may use rules and suggestions, and may choose to ignore them. Exploration of time in a card can be generative to a tarot poet, however, what if the Chariot figure from an early 20th century deck emerged somewhere near you today? What if the voices of figures in the pip cards stay within the time of the deck’s printing, or the time and world they depict?
Spreads and variations
Play with more and more possibilities. In fact, a solitary card may not be enough sensory information to jumpstart your creativity. Create a spread of up to six cards and let your imagination take over. You can pick and choose what needs to stay in your poem after it’s written — just write without reservation and judgement.
There are many ways to let tarot create stories, and with poetry, you can use language to your liking.
What if you use two cards instead of two symbols within a card and play the journalist’s game? Instead of using the images and your knowledge of the cards to write, what if you interview the people, animals or mythic beings who populate the cards? Poetry does not need to break into small lines and it certainly does not need to rhyme (most modern poems don’t, but rhyme remains important in spells).
With focus on the voice of the figure in the card or the nature of its overall meaning, a poet engages in the identity of each card in another way.
Jump into the cards
This brings me to another approach to writing tarot poetry. While these previous concepts may at first seem somewhat passive, this method is arguably more active. If you haven’t already, become what you see in the cards. Capture the senses. Consider how each figure feels emotionally and physically. What do they need? What keeps them awake at night, or what are they refusing to realize? Tell this in a poem.
Verse can be selective or broad, just as a tarot reader’s approach to each card may manifest meaning in a larger possible outcome or stress details in the present. The discipline of creating a poem based off a tarot card or a whole deck of tarot, lenormand or oracle cards will move the creator’s mind into a conscious space of comprehension of each card’s meaning.
Writing tarot poetry can make a medium a better reader, one who has taken a bit more time to dive into the visual clues of their cards. Some cards, like the Knight of Pentacles, can elicit laughter and a touch of reservation when it appears in a reading and often my experience with it and the first feeling it gives me indicate deeper lessons for my client. Other cards have a personal texture, too, and allow me to use an intimate reading style where I may say how the presence of particular cards could be red flags and what sort of introspection may be called for.
My prompts to write give away my interests in psychology and journalism, but your process should stem from your fortes, too: maybe you wish to assign each card a musical instrument or see reason for each figure to respond to your favourite food. The act of writing tarot poetry asks poets to find words to connect in new ways to the cards as well as reach others. Audience with this type of poetry is optional and any attempt at verse is worthy of celebration, capable of release, waiting to enrich its composer with joy.
Finding poetic language is itself a ritual. Drawing that language from a cherished object, or anything used for divination, can help enrich the writer’s psyche. Write with freedom. The point of poetry is to read it or write it with pleasure. Otherwise, you can entrust your writing to Custom Writings and its skilled freelance writers.