May 2009

Olivia Cronk


Fortune's Lover by Rachel Pollack

First of all, let me admit that I don’t really have much interest in Tarot cards or fortune telling or Ouija boards or psychics or any of that. Several of my friends read Rob Brezsny, so once in a while I check him out, only for the notion of possibility that such mental trinkets suggest. For whatever reason, my only interest in this realm is metaphorical or mood-based. I do my fortune telling in the form of considering the horrible and wonderful unknown that is the universe. That freaks my shit out just fine.

Secondly, I don’t know much about the history of Tarot. I did not, until this afternoon, know how complicated its evolution has been, nor how old the objects of its play/use are (historical traces suggest a range between 1410 and 1430). Tarot was and is a game, way before it was a forecasting tool. Nobody knows the definite etymology of the word itself, though suggestions include the Arabic “turuq” for “four pathways ” or “tarach ” for “reject,” and the French etymology gives it up to the Italians for “tarocco,” meaning, “deduction, the act of deducting.”

Rachel Pollack’s new (and charmingly pocket-sized) book, Fortune’s Lover, is “a book of tarot poems” that toys and probes. It’s not conventionally narrative, though it does tell stories. It’s not straight up lyric because it’s always got something more methodical driving the content. It feels, at moments, like the inside of someone’s house or like the language of a fantasy or like a pendant dropped on a table. And those sensations can make it feel pretty luscious. “Delighter of signs, ancestor,/ you taste the tongues of angels.” In a poem called “Devil,” Adam and Eve eat a baby and hide it and “[a] voice speaks, thin and sweet, from/ inside their bellies and along their veins.” In “Wheel of Fortune,” Pollack asks, without much flourish, but somehow quite endearingly, “[I]s every ruler,/ every hero, and every peasant/ a King of Fools?” She goes on to confess to a delightful addiction to “other people’s lives, /their memories like dreams [she] live[s] in pictures.” I love that.

What sold me on this book was the second to last poem. It’s called “Tarot Pi.” This poem was generated by translating the numbers 0-9 into words related to the first ten cards of the Tarot Major Arcana (along with “Awakens” for the decimal point). The words were then substituted for their numbers in the first hundred digits of the irrational number known as Pi...

Pleasure awakens light,
power light
blessing lonely silence.
Desire blessing pleasure. Desire
lion lonely rolling pleasure, silence pleasure.
. . . Reckless
rolling lion, light desire power. Reckless
desire, silence, lion desire silence. Reckless
lion, lonely, lonely lion, desire silence lion. Reckless
pleasure, power lion . . .

I’ve excerpted it here for brevity, but it’s a great read straight through. When I saw Pollack playing this way, and realized how she handled the messy web of chance and system and lyric and chaos, I was won over.

Okay, now it’s worth noting that Pollack, who is a visual artist, is the creator of a well regarded Tarot deck, The Shining Tribe Tarot. Once I started looking around at Pollack’s bio and work, it got even more interesting. She’s a beloved Fantasy writer, a nonfiction writer, and (!) the author of the comic book Doom Patrol (#64-87). Additionally, she’s a transsexual woman known for her challenges of “sickness” labels in her written criticism. The point is: Rachel Pollack is pretty cool; authors like her remind us that individuals can actually overcome the disgusting and oppressive tide of homogeneity, that meaning-making activities like poetry and deduction and symbol-weaving can be a subversion of everything unimaginative and dull. That seems very sensible.

Fortune’s Lover by Rachel Pollack
A Midsummer Night’s Press
ISBN: 97809794208
42 pages