Ask the Author: Maureen Alsop

Maureen Alsop contributes a series of poems on divination in the January issue. Today, she talks about the genesis of that work, worries about rhubarb and rain and her preferred method of divination.

1. I notice most poets have a series of poems they like to work with (such as Marie-Elizabeth Mali’s “The Town of”– series and William Trowbridge’s “Kong” series).   What influenced your “-mancy” series as seen in this issue?

Multiple factors led me to “the mancy’s.”   One significant influence came from my work in Australia where I was engaged in holding numerous focus groups and analyzing health care needs in rural Australia (North Queensland).   One of the most compelling comments came from a discussion with a group of Aboriginal Healthcare workers who relayed to me numerous experiences about their work. A woman told me that she would often know when someone was going to die.   There would be a sign she said, a bird or a signal in the landscape.     This made intuitive sense to me, and her statement has stayed with me for years.   It’s possible that visions are subconscious projections on the landscape rather than metaphysical forces at play, either way the effect is transcendent.   How else do we engage with the world than through observation, interpretation (often of the senses) to formulate our insights.   A few years ago someone suggested I study the auguries which I really did enjoy, as I have always admired symbolism.   Last year I wrote my first “divination” poem which addressed the practice of Ornithomancy, the study of bird’s patterns or the flight of birds. What I love about writing these mantic poems is that they find their own structure.   They remain abstract on a certain level which seems entirely appropriate.   Abstraction is what draws me to poetry, the utilization of language crafted to arouse the intuitive, emotional, spiritual and sensory channels through a very specific means.   The mancy’s offer much to me as they provide a guide, another layer of seeing in which image and language come first.   The practice of divination itself is a very old art, a lost art, both historic and transcultural, and this seems a compatible precept for the medium of poetry.

2. What are you currently listening to?

Rain.   Two days of rain.   Now followed by the sound of sun.   Beyond that various selections:   Tony Tost’s America (podcast), Pandora’s Carla Bruni station, Songs of Leonard Cohen (especially. “Master Song” and “Stranger Song” on repeat),   Sinead O’Connor’s Theology, David Life’s Chakra Tuning, and   Johnny Cash’s America IV: The Man Comes Around which is the only CD (yes, CD) in my car at the moment.”

3.     What dead person or thing would you talk to?   What would you ask?

My father.   Do you think the rain will hurt the rhubarb?

4.   What is your preferred form of divination?

First form, best form: ornithology.   Lately I’ve experienced a series of encounters with flocks of blackbirds.   Their caw and wing swoops usually grab my attention, and rarely have I seen one alone. I heard crows are becoming a serious problem in Japan and there is currently a bounty on them.   I realize ravens may seem a little macabre, a little “Oh Lenore!” or Hitchcock-esque but I’m fascinated by their behavior.   I am also interested numbers and dice.   In Tibet there is a divination practice called Mo that I’m eager to read more about.

5.   Would you rather see the future or have the ability to change the past?

Change the past.