Poet Scot Slaby sent me a copy of his chapbook The Cards We’ve Drawn (Bright Hill Press, 2014) to read and I want to share it with all you tarot enthusiasts out there. I very much enjoyed it and read it through cover to cover several times. These are poems that can really tug on your heartstrings, even more so for the tarot enthusiast who can truly appreciate the depth of Slaby’s lines.
The first part of the book consists of 11 poems, each poem expressing one card and position in the Waite Celtic Cross spread. Of all signifiers, it’s the Knight of Cups. What is it with poets and the Knight of Cups? =) No, seriously. The Knight of Cups frequently appears in readings I do for poets.
If the first 11 poems of the book were to be configured into an actual CC spread, here’s what it would look like:
The first poem, “The Knight of Cups & the Querent Himself,” beautifully describes the imagery of the Knight of Cups. “His heels and helm have wings.” Yes, and perhaps that is why the card often appears in readings for poets. Poets are divine messengers of human emotion. The first poem alludes to the final poem “The World & What Will Come”– “He has the prize. The End? Who’d fail / once quests were won? The image shows / the horse is looking down. It knows.”
In “The Lovers & the Influence Affecting Him,” the tone is set: at the heart of it, the chapbook’s theme is about moral choice and, peaking up at the Three of Swords, its interplay with love and more specifically in this collection of poems, a contemporary love story. “Below a lemon sun… Eve watches heavens shine above / while Adam looks to her for love.”
Adam stands in front of the Tree of Life while Eve stands in front of the Tree of Knowledge: we have here a poet exploring the tension between the mind/rationality and the heart/emotions. The Four of Wands, of course, suggests that the poet’s nature, at least right now in the present, is predisposed to choosing heart/emotions, or love. The pull of passion is strong. “Whatever lines you may have drawn are gone. . . . I throw a pinecone, call your name. / We’re both engaged. So safe, we’re drawn / together, kissing in the rain.”
What I really love about Slaby’s poems here are how they serve as amazing meditations on each of the given cards, and meditations from a poet’s perspective. From my experience and interactions, poets are the most observant of people, and so we tarot practitioners have a lot to learn about tarot cards from poets who observe them. That’s what’s most intriguing about the book: seeing these same Rider Waite cards I’ve been looking at for decades, but through a poet’s perspective.
Yet together, the cards also express a heartbreaking love story that is woven through the eleven poems, about the eleven years shared between two lovers.
Now, at the Three of Swords, that’s when Slaby really had me. That’s where, shall we say, the plot thickens. It’s where the crux of the pain that drives this collection is revealed. “With madness we’re paid back in spades– / we’re cheating on our fiancées. / We know it’s wrong. Whatever shades / of gray exist…”
Perhaps my favorite part, though, is Slaby’s description of the RWS Three of Swords:
Joyeuse, Hauteclaire and Durendal
could be those swords that pierce the heart
suspended in gray air. A squall
of rain, of grief, persists…
…with madness you’re paid back in spades.
Slaby’s expression here for the card is definitely worth integrating into any tarot practitioner’s journal notes. You bet I did. Purely from a practitioner’s perspective, his interpretive framework is fascinating. Joyeuse is King Charlemagne’s personal sword, which according to legend, houses the Holy Spear. Hauteclaire is the name of Oliver de Vienne’s sword, a knight from the French epic poem “The Song of Roland,” dated around Charlemagne’s time, and Durendal is said to be the sharpest sword in the world, having come straight from the angels to Charlemagne, who then gave it to Roland, one of his most trusted military leaders. I love thinking about the three swords in the Three of Swords as Joyeuse, Hauteclaire, and Durendal.
The final card, and final poem in the first set, “The World & What Will Come,” is beautiful. “Eleven years, and still we dare / effect our story’s denouement / while watching how the life we share / plays out within the cards we’ve drawn.”
As a foreword or preface to Part II of the collection, Slaby quotes from Adrienne Rich’s Twenty-One Love Poems, and it’s worth quoting again here in full:
No one’s fated or doomed to love anyone.
The accidents happen, we’re not heroines,
they happen in our lives like car crashes,
books that change us, neighborhoods
we move into and come to love.
The Cards We’ve Drawn won Bright Hill Press’s poetry chapbook competition and I’m not surprised. Tarot enthusiasts are going to really appreciate this collection of poems. Please consider supporting the amazing publisher Bright Hill Press and Slaby’s work. You can order the chapbook for $10. Be sure to check it out!