Vermont’s Poet Laureate, Chard deNiord, deserves every accolade thrown at him. A founder of the master’s program in poetry at New England College, deNiord is a professor of English and creative writing at Providence College in Providence, Rhode Island. Besides his master’s degree in fine arts (creative writing) from the University of Iowa, the poet holds a master’s degree in biblical studies from Yale University.
Today, my local Sunday newspaper has a column written by DeNiord in which he hits on a common scenario that poets experience but which is quite familiar to tarot readers: shame, embarrassment, and perplexity at how to present oneself in a public format when pressed to respond to the question “What do you do?”
DeNiord admits to flummoxed—sometimes perturbed—responses from fellow passengers when revealing to a seat-neighbor on a plane or train what his profession is. “It’s a conversation stopper,” DeNiord reports when he informs these fellow American strangers that he is a poet.
While it’s easy to assign ignorance to such reactions, DeNiord tries to conjecture that it could be tied to intimidation, negative reaction from poor or inadequate experience with poetry in primary school, or a particularly American socially-structured emphasis on the “hard” professions or trades—science, technology, engineering, and math—as the only real viably sustaining fields for gainful employment. There has been a slow deterioration of the liberal arts and a shaming of the arts in general (the soft trades) as useless means to contributing to successful community living. The problem with this paradigm, not directly spoken by DeNiord, is that the soft trades explore our feelings and emotions—a demonized facet of the human animal that, by American standards, somehow proves how weak an individual is…
Take this paragraph from DeNiord’s column explaining what is important about touching on personal emotion:
“William Carlos Williams’s popular poem, “The Red Wheelbarrow,” provides a poignant example of just how challenging poetry can be to teach without some insight into the suggestive nature of poetry. One searches immediately for a single, correct answer to this poem. Just what is it specifically that depends “so much” on “a red wheelbarrow/ beside the white chickens/ glazed with rain water[?]” “So much” is Williams’s simple poetic answer in terms of what the image does to stimulate the reader’s imagination both intellectually and emotionally as a verbal trigger. Williams, who was a general practitioner, wrote this poem on a prescription pad while tending to a boy who was dying of TB. He gazed out the window of the second story tenement where the boy lived during his vigil and saw a red wheelbarrow surrounded by chickens in the alley below. The reader, of course, doesn’t know that background information when reading the poem for the first time, but he or she doesn’t need it to understand the electric power of this image alone. It triggers other scenes and emotions in the reader. It’s infinitely generous as a generative image. A fascinating assignment to follow up on after reading this poem is to ask students what exactly depends on this image, with the caveat that there is no right or wrong answer—simply something one feels is important in relation to a vital emotion or thought [that] this image evokes. When poetry isn’t taught in this openly pedagogical way, especially in the early curricular stages, it robs students of one of poetry’s most exciting attributes, namely its verbal power to transport the reader from the literal to the imaginative, from the mundane to transcendent.” (Italics and emphasis are mine.)
In other countries throughout the world, in Europe, South America, Eurasia, and the Middle East, it is normal for everyday citizens to be able to name their national poets—those people who have spoken to the emotional timbre that everyday citizens experience, when national or militaristic leaders cannot. United States citizens lack this outlet. We lack the ability to speak about our emotions without being shamed by our peers while doing so.
Don’t ever be ashamed of being a tarot reader… you truly are one of the last vestiges of the ancient ways, the ancient ways that recognize that the emotional self is every bit as important as the mental, the physical, and the spiritual body. You are one of the last forgotten gateways to showing people—with the visual triggers of the tarot cards—that emotional acknowledgement is necessary.