“Which path are you going to take,” asked the wolf,
“the path of needles or the path of pins?”
No. 3: Emily Carr
Which elements of fairy tales resonate most with you and your personal life?
First and foremost, as Fanny Howe reminds us, the fairy tale is a form in which, like Midas’ golden touch, a simple wish conjures up a reality that was all along potential. Not better, just possible. Though they have wildly different endings, Grimm’s fairy tales, for example, share a common beginning: “in the olden times when it was of use to wish for something…” I’m also drawn to the way fairy tales are saturated in sensory perception, are disinclined to use self/human as a measure of experience, and transpose the world of talking animals, libidinous gods, and chivalric knights onto “real life.” In a fairy tale, God can make frantic music inside icebergs, can be thundery, drunk, can argue with the Devil in the back seat of a worn out pickup.
Like Robert Duncan, I believe that the modern mind has not only chickened out on God, on angels, on creation, but it has chickened out on the common things of our actual world, taking the properties of things as their uses and retracting all sense of fellow creaturliness. Whenever I write fairy tales, my hope is thus to create a present world ecology stirred with old ways of thinking about how perception, experience, and articulation happen—a world in which the human must vie for attention with astonished moons, howling trees, drugged cows, clouds like wildebeest, cornfield testaments, a blue bullet decomposing, squashed angels…
This is one strategy for avoiding Band Aid or cosmetic solutions to our increasingly fraught relationship with the environments which we have chosen (perhaps merely by virtue of being part of them) to take responsibility, of searching for what can’t be found, of pursuing beyond sense, keeping it real, for growing the world—which is, after all and as Cole Swensen reminds us, the basic project of sentient beings.
I mean of course that in these fairy tales we are bewildered, run wild or dwell like Robin Hood, outlawed and at home.
How did you become enamored with fortune telling?
The first thing you should know is that I’m going to focus specifically on the Tarot here, because I don’t—(though I do have a penchant for ritual, and wish on every 11:11, every falling star, every first star, every abandoned penny—which I believe are the trace of angels in the world—every rainbow, pretty much any object or phenomenon that’s wishable…), I don’t consider myself to be into fortune-telling precisely. Working with the Tarot is for me a form of prayer. There’s the same sense of fervency, of checking in with one’s hopes and fears, considering what might, in the best of all possible worlds, be possible—of making space in our overstimulated post-modern lives for faith, and whimsy, and belief because it’s fun, because it’s one of the evolutionary gifts of our genetic legacy, because we can.
The second thing you should know is that because I am a love poet, the formal model of the Tarot is necessary. As a narrative strategy for accommodating the ways our lives misstep and mistake, for celebrating what shouldn’t have happened, what never happened, what might have happened, for crafting a narrative that blows and buoys, saying not this, not this instead of I have it, for sneaking into fiction the lyric’s quest for rest that never (God willing) will be found…
In this instance, the Tarot—which is itself a flawed, mortal document that, like love or life itself, is never read front to back, all of a single clothe—turns the story into an event rather than simply the record of an event. It creates a more vulnerable, fluid space, in which, as the narrative is shuffled and reshuffled, the characters live and learn—but not in a progressive direction.
Using the Tarot to tell a story is a trick borrowed from Proust; as Rivka Galchin explains it: the text offers a series of possible narratives, many of them incompatible, all of them plausible enough, none of them anointed above the others as the definitely real one, all of them, in at least one possible world, true. The Tarot is thus a lyric strategy for, like Scheherazade of the one thousand one nights, deferring conclusions, prolonging suspense, interrogating meaning, and exercising choice.
What’s your history with The Wizard of Oz?
For me fairy tales are about what happens when you are old enough to understand that some part of our lives really do end, sometimes you aren’t that person anymore, some places, some people you can take with you & some you have to leave behind, there is such a thing in life—& some more than others—as forfeit.
Like Dorothy, I had to leave those endless cornfields rolling over my left shoulder in order to write about the Midwest…
Emily Carr’s poem Resurrection Refrains: 22 Tarot Lyrics in the form of the Yellow Brick Road appears in The Yellow Issue of Fairy Tale Review.