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”Â series). Â What influenced your “-mancy”Â series as seen in this issue?
Multiple factors led me to “the mancy’s.”Â Â 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). Â 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. Â There would be a sign she said, a bird or a signal in the landscape. Â Â This made intuitive sense to me, and her statement has stayed with me for years. Â It’s possible that visions are subconscious projections on the landscape rather than metaphysical forces at play, either way the effect is transcendent. Â How else do we engage with the world than through observation, interpretation (often of the senses) to formulate our insights. Â A few years ago someone suggested I study the auguries which I really did enjoy, as I have always admired symbolism. Â 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. Â They remain abstract on a certain level which seems entirely appropriate. Â 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. Â The mancy’s offer much to me as they provide a guide, another layer of seeing in which image and language come first. Â 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. Â Two days of rain. Â Now followed by the sound of sun. Â Beyond that various selections: Â Tony Tost’s America (podcast), Pandora’s Carla Bruni station, Songs of Leonard Cohen (especially. “Master Song”Â and “Stranger Song”Â on repeat), Â Sinead O’Connor’s Theology, David Life’s Chakra Tuning, and Â Johnny Cash’s America IV: The Man Comes Around which is the only CD (yes, CD) in my car at the moment.”
3. Â Â What dead person or thing would you talk to? Â What would you ask?
My father. Â Do you think the rain will hurt the rhubarb?
4. Â What is your preferred form of divination?
First form, best form: ornithology. Â Lately I’ve experienced a series of encounters with flocks of blackbirds. Â 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. Â I realize ravens may seem a little macabre, a little “Oh Lenore!”Â or Hitchcock-esque but I’m fascinated by their behavior. Â I am also interested numbers and dice. Â In Tibet there is a divination practice called Mo that I’m eager to read more about.
5. Â Would you rather see the future or have the ability to change the past?
Change the past.