Queen of Cups has ended its one year run this month as an alternative mini lit mag delivered weekly to subscribers’ inboxes. Over the past year, QOC has featured 53 writers, 53 original writing prompts, 53 tarot cards and around 100 tarot readings! 100 because nearly every issue included a general reading as well as a reading specifically for writers and artists. Check out the last issue featuring poet Courtney LeBlanc and The Empress. The full year of back issues is archived and available for viewing. Thank you to all subscribers and occasional readers alike. It’s been a surprising journey from quirky idea to fruition and such a learning experience.
One feature of my mini lit mag Queen of Cups is a weekly writing prompt. Sometimes I base the prompt on the week’s tarot card, other times I’m inspired by the featured writer, or I come up with something out of left field. As a poet, I’ve found prompts invaluable in generating new material. Here are four of my favorite from Queen of Cups back issues, all are accessible to poets and prose writers alike.
1. Write a piece that takes place in a structure, dwelling, or shelter. Think of Shirley Jackson who suffered from agoraphobia and wrote ghost stories and psychological thrillers where houses are not only haunted but become malevolent main characters imprisoning their inhabitants. Conversely, look to Rumer Godden who wrote at least five novels with the word ‘House’ appearing in the title. Godden’s dwellings also rise to character status but are more benevolent, becoming meaningful because of the accrual of inhabitants over the course of history. Like a beloved and ancient oak, Godden’s houses take on personalities of their own and tend to stand both within the passage of time and beyond it. Houses symbolize safety, nurture, and personal and family identity, but can also work in the opposite direction and quickly convey danger, imprisonment, and stultification. Your job is to write something with a physical structure in it, see where it takes you and what your structure reveals to you through the writing of your piece.
2. Write a piece titled “Grief Hallucinations” which incorporates the sentence: “You are a little soul carrying around a corpse.” (Epictetus)
3. The tradition of lachrymatory dates to Greek and Roman times, but was popular around the Civil War. Wives and sweethearts would collect their tears in small vials, called lachrymatories, in hopes of showing their returning soldiers how much they were missed. Lachrymatory was a common ritual in the elaborate Victorian mourning process which also included: ‘deep mourning’, ‘half mourning’, and, my favorite, ‘slighting the mourning’ the moment when scratchy crepe dress trimming could be removed. Mourning in dress was observed right down to the smallest detail: I own a small box of antique stick pins with black heads labelled ‘Mourning Pins’. Women collected tears shed over death into lachrymatory and would leave the uncorked vials on loved ones’ graves; uncorked so the tears would evaporate over time. Write a poem or prose piece where lachrymatory (or ritualistic mourning) appear.
4. Write a micro essay/story (about 500 words), or a prose poem about consciously throwing something special away, or about getting rid of something in a bizarre or unique way.
La Miseria by Cristobal Rojas, 1886
***The following reading of the Death card is excerpted from the mini lit mag Queen of Cups. This week’s issue can be read in entirety at the link. You can subscribe to Queen of Cups for free. Issues are delivered every Wednesday to your inbox. ***
I don’t usually shuffle the deck and pick the weekly card feeling like I need some kind of guidance or a relevant message. I usually just shuffle and pick, take what we get and set to work. This week, however, I found myself shuffling slowly, heavily. After several stressful, anxious, angry, post-election days, a torpor, a complete lassitude, had settled over me. I shuffled absentmindedly and picked a card about three or four from the top of the deck, without much thought. I was surprised to see the Death card and immediately recognized it as appropriate and powerful. I’m not going to be able to help putting this card in the context of recent events. I would like QOC to be as much of a haven as possible, where we can all think about art, focus on art, read good literature, write a little and have some spiritual/philosophical fun with the tarot, a place to be introspective and centered. But….. Sometimes the complicated and challenging aspects of life intrude, and art can’t really be separated from life anyway, nor would we want it to. Many of us have been knocked off our centers and spiritually dislocated, come face to face with our own fear, anger, and helplessness, and, sometimes even more painfully, face to face with the fear, anger, helplessness and suffering of those around us who we love, respect, and wish to support. Although the appearance of the Death card in B films always portends doom, Death in the tarot doesn’t signify literal, physical death, but a powerful metaphor. Metaphor is another reason I love the tarot. The Death card can be read in both positive and negative ways depending on the context but also because the idea of death as change contains both positive and negative elements. Both readings see Death as an ending, an inexorable force which may feel overwhelming, a time of significant transition and transformation. If we accept this analogy, there is also likely to be struggle, fear and pain. The idea of denying death or forestalling it isn’t really relevant. Literal death is not swayed by either denial or reasoning. This card is certainly speaking to what many of us lived through on November 8th. The election of any new president and handing of power from one to the next is always a mini-death in the metaphorical sense. There’s trepidation as we watch this fragile construct called America enact its every four-year ritual. This year there’s a sense of dread in half the population, and the very fact that the population of our country is literally split in two over its beliefs, ideals and direction is heightening this dread. Half of us are mourning the impending loss of advocacy and care for our environment, health, education, religious freedoms, equal rights, tolerance, liberty, and moral fiber. Many of us feel afraid for ourselves and even more afraid for friends and family who, because of their skin color, or sexual orientation, are more vulnerable to being targeted when hate speech incites violence. I have taken comfort in friends telling friends ‘I’ve got your back’. Not a cliche in this context, but a real promise that’s not easy to make. I’ve got your back, as in: I will call out racism when I see or hear it. I’ve got your back, as in: I will call out misogyny and homophobia when I see or hear it, I’ve got your back as in: if a Muslim registry is established we will all register as Muslim, I’ve got your back: I will use my talents, my energy and resources in the fight against fundamental injustice, I’ve got your back: I will stand beside you because, as many of us know from experience, we’re stronger and safer in groups. We, writers and artists, are in a unique position to use our work on behalf of humanity, for equality, fairness, integrity. Art-making is truth-telling, which in itself is a powerful and subversive act. You don’t have to write activist or political poetry for a poem to send a profound message about the human condition. And it’s also desirable for art and craft to sometimes be a balm, an object of beauty, joy, and gratitude, that allows its viewer to breathe deeply and feel, for a moment at least, that life is going to be ok. It’s alright to feel that in the presence of death. We should offer each other, our readers, our viewers, and ourselves, that empathy. I felt this as I worked on the doll I donated to the Standing with Standing Rock fundraiser I told you all about last week. I created her in the days leading up to the election and half of election day itself. The blog post I wrote with photos of the process received a powerful response. People need art in dark times. They need to make art and interact with art. Some of the warmest, most genuine, and bonded groups I have spent time with were informal ones come together around art, craft and writing. We need to keep doing these things on small and large scales and count whatever good results as more light in the darkness. An ancient and enduring ritual of death is that of sitting vigil, from the Latin wakefulness. A loved one commits to sit, awake, beside the bed of the dying for comfort and to bear witness to the life and death of this one individual. It is a commitment to being present, seeing what has to be seen, feeling what has to be felt and staying put. Sitting vigil occurs in non fatal struggles too, as when we sit with a person severely depressed, heartbroken, in physical or emotional pain, the woman in labor, the loved one betrayed or spiritually bereft. It’s one of the hardest roles to fill and one of the most basic. It is a job that has often been taken-up by women. I have sat vigil in nearly all of these ways in my life. I like to think of sitting vigil as the act of space holding, one person holding a forcefield of safety and love around another who is too devoid of lifeforce, weak, or in pain to do this for herself, but also holding a space of reverence for the hard work of suffering, letting go, being human. I think this is what the Death card is calling us to do. There are days of action ahead, they’re knocking at the door, right now we take time to sit vigil for each other and for the loss of something greater.
Every Wednesday in Queen of Cups I pull a tarot card of the week and give both a general reading and one tailored to artists and writers. This week’s card is Page of Wands. I’ve included the reading for artists and writers below. But, you can read the whole issue and subscribe all for free!
Page of Wands for Writers and Artists: This card is pure creativity for creativity’s sake, it’s experimentation, play, making without judgement, spending the day not only painting but dwelling in your imagination the way children do in imaginative play. As adults we don’t marvel enough at the ability of children to imagine worlds, sustain them, and then act within the worlds they’re imagining. I can see my boys at seven-years-old, wandering around the yard holding some kind of prop: lego creation, deflated beanie baby, stick, (maybe a beanie baby on a stick) or whatever was at hand, sometimes mumbling quietly, other times running, crouching, jumping off of rocks and stumps, or striking odd poses, all happening in a world that was a mix of the physical one in front of them and some other imaginary world being created on the spot. Think of the creative stamina and power in that! The same behavior in an adult is bound to be labeled eccentricity, escapism, or delusion. But for an artist, that ability is pure gold, and I don’t mean the monetary kind. I’d argue that the ability to create worlds and then act in them, a kind of wakeful lucid dream, is true magic, the vestigial whispers of which writers tap into and readers respond to in such works as The Lord of the Rings, the Harry Potter books and Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea Trilogy, among others. This was a magical power we once wielded with complete confidence and faith and have all but lost with maturity. It’s heartbreaking for a parent to witness the first falterings of imaginative magic in their children. The day comes when your child goes through the motions with legos and beanie babies, makes the sound effects, imagines the storyline, but can’t seem to fully enter the imaginative world. You see him sitting on the bedroom floor surrounded by the props and realize he knows he’s just sitting on the bedroom floor with a clutter of toys. I guess it boils down to a growing consciousness that comes with maturity, but from the outside looks like loss, a death. I can barely remember what it feels like on the inside. Without the intrusion of consciousness and the loss of our early imaginative magic, we wouldn’t have Harry Potter, because that series is both a striving back for its author and the fulfillment of a deep need for its readers. Our imaginations and creative abilities do come back, just in a more refined, mature, productive, some might argue less potent, form. We naturally move away from the desire to swing sticks at imaginary monsters, to less pure, often more creatively ambitious, forms of imaginative play. Those years of possessing magical creativity can never be fully retrieved, but we couldn’t be adult artists without that apprenticeship and without the loss. That emptiness makes us yearn and work to restore something of our former abilities, resulting in art. Page of Wands reminds us that every human has artistic potential in any given moment, as a birthright, that creativity and connecting through creativity are soul-healing, dignifying acts.
Paul Burty Haviland: Young Woman Sitting (Florence Peterson), 1910s. Cyanotype
Welcome to Queen of Cups Issue Nineteen featuring three poems by Juliet Cook and The Hierophant card. I’ve never really liked The Hierophant, considered it a kind of dull, clinical card, not as much fun to pull as The Star, Moon or any of the Cups. But my feelings about this card transformed as I researched the term Hierophant for this week’s reading. The general reading gives the accepted translation of The Hierophant card, the one that leaves me a little cold. The reading for artists and writers is a more intuitive take on the card, based on the ancient definition of a hierophant. Both depictions are relevant in readings. A subject may need The Hierophant’s guidance on accepting (or not) the rules and traditions of a large corporation. And there are those of you out there, writers and artists, creators who are also navigating the politics of universities, for whom the first reading may be more relevant at this time than the second. Or, relevant to a different part of your lives. That’s what’s so much fun about the tarot, it’s a rorschach test, allowing us to gain an intuitive understanding of where we are on any given day, based on the theme of a card. It’s a creative exercise!
Tarot Card of the Week: The Hierophant
The Hierophant: The Hierophant is one of a few cards in the tarot which signifies the group as opposed to the individual. Thus, The Hierophant often stands for institutions (churches, universities, companies and societies) and their values, rules, hierarchy, traditions. The card speaks of group dynamics, conforming to an established set of rules, assigned roles, knowledge and beliefs. The Hierophant originally symbolized a religious figure inducting the two figures beneath him into a prescribed religious life of rigid structure, with little room for individuality. In a reading, this card may signify the attainment of higher learning, or specified skills and knowledge through working with a teacher in an institutional setting. It may signify a need to settle down and conform to fixed situations, rules, traditions of an institutional entity which exists above and beyond your individual desires. The appearance of this card can also point to a problem you are having with all of the above, your inability to conform to institutional demands and follow a pre set program, and your disinclination to give up freedom and individuality for the benefit or a larger group.
The Hierophant for Writers and Artists: I looked up the non-tarot-related definition of Hierophant while writing this and found: “Displayer of holy things. A person, especially a priest in ancient Greece, who interprets sacred mysteries or esoteric principles.” And: “Chief of the Eleusinian cult, the best-known of the mystery religions in ancient Greece. His principal job was to chant demonstrations of sacred symbols during the celebration of the mysteries. Upon taking office, he symbolically cast his former name into the sea and was thereafter called only hierophantes.” Well, that I can get behind! I guess the definition of Hierophant and the accepted tarot interpretation aren’t that far apart, but relinquishing one’s personal identity to a Greek mystery cult sounds way more appealing than conforming to the rules of a large company. It’s a little bit like the irony of the talented and prolific creative who lives what others might consider a boring life. She gets to bed at a reasonable time, keeps regular hours, lives clean, has a discipline inside of which she can be creatively daring and wild. The artist as Hierophant casts her name into the sea in favor of being a conduit for greater knowing. In this scenario, there are rules, rituals, and the abdication of self to the universal mystery. None of which are alien to the artist. During the creative act, as in prayer, the individual’s goal is to forget about self, to leave the human baggage and bondage, reminders of mortal limitations, behind, in favor of becoming one with that which cannot be fully seen, known or comprehended. And she does this not for personal gain, but selflessly, acting as that connection between the worldly life and the unseen on behalf of the tribe. This gets back to the idea of poets as seers, venturing into the unknown and bringing something of soul-value back to the group, giving that gift freely in shared humanity. I don’t see The Hierophant as solely symbolizing the abdication of self to a large institution like a university or company, that interpretation has its place, but is a modern one. I believe The Hierophant points to something much larger and more essential: the willingness and ability to relinquish one’s individuality to the greater “I am”, and I don’t mean God, though this could mean God and traditional spirituality for some. Pursuing the artist’s life can seem like THE most individualistic occupation there is, but the goal isn’t really to produce works of art with ‘ME, ME, ME’ stamped all over them. The beauty of being an artist, the part that takes our breath away and keeps us coming back, is being surprised by our own creations, knowing that what we create is a little bit us and a lot of something we can’t explain. This is what The Hierophant is speaking to, whether you’re right with it, or struggling, look to the image of the ordinary man casting his name into the sea.
Introducing Juliet Cook!
Everyone Handles Death Differently
Even if I can’t save myself, I still photograph the dead birds
and save their remains. Dead remnants infiltrate
the memory box. I meant it when I said it. Maybe
he did not. Otherwise, how could I have been so easy
to replace? Every dead bird is different. Different size,
different shape, different structure, different missing parts,
different little dead hearts. Different causes of their demise.
I replaced brains with hearts then wanted to rip my heart out,
then thought about pouring another heavy dose
of sweet cream into the latest small bird coffin.
Everyone handles lost love differently.
I think dead birds will always love me more
than living humans ever really will from here on out.
House of Her Cards
Sometimes I feel like I barely exist.
I could easily be replaced with her
or her or her or her.
You’ll get tired of listening to me
and so you’ll try a more quiet her.
You’ll get tired of handling me
and so you’ll dive into her body.
Maybe so-called love is just a game,
filled with lots of different hers
with an alternating playing field of card tricks.
I’m not her any more. My cards are lost.
Part of my brain suspects they were purposely torn
into pieces and then flung down through
the cracks of a broken deck.
There was a large circle of chairs with female poet bodies sitting on top of them.
They were having a conversation, preceding a yes or no vote, about whether or not a
poem of mine should be removed from a source that had already chosen to publish it.
Chosen or not, some questions were now being raised. It had come to some gender-
based assumptions that I was not the kind of feminist they had thought I was, because I
had mutant pigs as friends.
They no longer wanted to publish a poem by a possible mutant pig-breeding chick,
unless she broke bread with the primary editorial staff members too.
“Do you know what primary staff members are?” that one whispered into my ear. “Do
you know how powerful they are? Do you know how they taste?”
The voting panel looked like they were leaning towards pulling me out, but first they
wanted me and another female body to share one chair together while they counted
backwards from 10 to 0.
I was supposed to sit on her lap and the two of us were told to make competitive oinking
sounds after every number until we hit 0. Then it was time to start running.
Perpetually racing around the circle of chairs in a cakewalk competition in which all the
baked cakes were shaped like pigs and the winning chick would be hit in the head with
a pig cake and then sold to the highest bidder.
How did I get myself into this cake hole? Who do they think they are? Who do they think
Who do I think I am? I think my little mutant pigs are something more than just soft cake
batter pig shapes to be cut into edible eatables.
Do they really think I’m not going to rip out their fake fucking pig tails and let the blood
drip all over the pig cake frosting and then throw that cake bowl down on the ground
and run away from this encircling game and grow my own pig ears?
Juliet Cook is a grotesque glitter witch medusa hybrid brimming with black, grey, silver, purple, and dark red explosions. Her poetry has appeared in a peculiar multitude of literary publications, including Arsenic Lobster, Diode, FLAPPERHOUSE, Menacing Hedge, and Tarpaulin Sky Press. She is the author of more than thirteen poetry chapbooks, most recently including POISONOUS BEAUTYSKULL LOLLIPOP (Grey Book Press, 2013), RED DEMOLITION (Shirt Pocket Press, 2014), a collaboration with Robert Cole called MUTANT NEURON CODEX SWARM (Hyacinth Girl Press, 2015), and a collaboration with j/j hastain called Dive Back Down (Dancing Girl Press, 2015). Cook’s first full-length poetry book, “Horrific Confection”, was published by BlazeVOX in 2008 and her second full-length poetry book, “Malformed Confetti” is forthcoming from Crisis Chronicles Press. In addition to her writing, Cook creates other art too, such as semi-abstract painting/collage art hybrid creatures. You can find out more at www.JulietCook.weebly.com
Weekly Writing Prompt: This week’s artwork is a cyanotype, achieved during a photographic process which uses ammonium iron citrate and potassium ferricyanide to create a cyan-blue image. Oh how I love cyanotypes, that blue like the folds of the Virgin Mary’s veil, or swimming at deep dusk on the last day of summer. They take what might be an ordinary subject or tableau and transform it into something that effects us viscerally. Write a piece based on the cyanotype above: Young Woman Sitting. You might also look up Florence Peterson who was the regular subject of the photographer.
**You can subscribe to Queen of Cups for free! Issues are delivered to your inbox every Wednesday.
Jan Freeman is the founding editor of Paris Press whose mission is to ‘publish groundbreaking yet overlooked literature by women’. Freeman is the author of three poetry collections, one of which was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award. Her fourth collection Blue Structure, published by Calypso Editions, will be out in July. Queen of Cups will feature three poems from Blue Structure in Issue Six, tomorrow.
From An Accounting
“When the meal ended, you presented a brief statement on geography
and the value of proximity.
Inside the florescent ringing of the empty Chinese restaurant,
I recited the names of birds that gather beneath the feeder beside my house.
An unexpected sadness rooted itself under my skin
tenacious as the quills of a porcupine.”
Queen of Cups currently has 379 subscribers and issues are scheduled through mid November! There is no lack of poetry in the coming months and a bit less micro fiction and non fiction. If you’re interested in submitting a couple fiction or non fiction pieces of 500 words and under, any style, submit to firstname.lastname@example.org with a short bio. Experimental and hybrid work welcomed! This Wednesday’s issue will feature two poems by poet MeLaina Elise Ramos. Here’s a little tease: “I am sitting on the front steps of a house I do not own, watching/ our little boy in cowboy boots. True Texan at heart: stomping at the bees,/ rocks in his mouth.”
Besides featuring a few pieces by one contemporary writer in each issue, Queen of Cups also features a weekly tarot card with the traditional attributes of that card to guide you through the week, as well as how the card is relevant to writers and artists. Last week I pulled the moon card:
“The Moon’s Message for Writers and Artists: There’s no way to be a writer and an artist without exploring the shadow. We explore personal and collective darkness every time we create. It’s this duality, the tension between, and balancing of, light and dark that is the stuff of art. Thing is, it’s generally not easy or fun to turn away from your ordered world, the one you cast in a positive light most days, and enter an impenetrable darkness. There are two ways that artists must navigate the underworld. The first is in the very act of creating. We must enter the emptiness, the dark mystery of our own unconscious, whenever we sit down to create. That seeming void is where words and images materialize. We, as artists, have to hang out in this uncomfortable purgatory waiting for the poem, song, story, to come to us so we can follow and discover its nature bit by bit…”
There is also a weekly writing prompt. So… if you haven’t subscribed yet, why not? Subscription to Queen of Cups is free, only comes once a week, can be read in one sitting, and will likely introduce you to the work of some writers whose paths you’ve not previously crossed. Plus, it’s fun and I do all the work 🙂 Win, win.