October 26, 2016

Queen of Cups Issue Twenty-Four (Virginia Konchan and Five of Wands)

Photographer Ata Kando taken by Ed van der Elsken, 1953
Welcome to Queen of Cups Issue Twenty-Four featuring Virginia Konchan and Five of Wands. I love the above photo, even if it's an ironic (highly stylized) image in light of this week's tarot reading for writers and artists. You would probably laugh at the amount of social media research that went into the 'Artists and Writers' tarot reading. I'm on Facebook, I closed my Twitter account ages ago, Pinterest is my guilty pleasure and I, sometimes grudgingly, maintain a blog. I get Instagram, Snapchat, and Tumblr all mixed up, to the endless delight and frustration (depending on the day) of my sixteen year old. The older I get, the more like work social media seems, as if I'm a small business which requires constant management, trouble shooting, advertising campaign, cost analysis, etc. It's only in the past couple years that I feel my willingness to keep current with the machinations of the virtual world slipping. I notice a widening generational divide, my memories stretching back to a time before many people I cross paths with were born. Music, movies, slang, trends and long-forgotten, now quaint, celebrities I associate with actual years, developmental stages, real people I was with, have become funny throw-backs, viral YouTube videos, like this one. Okay, that's funny no matter when you were born. My Facebook friends post about seeing Neil Young and Bob Dylan in concert, dreams that feature 'where are they now' stars, and the psychological pitfalls of looking up symptoms on WebMD. I asked my sixteen year old about the trend of posting in large type and he didn't know what I was talking about. None of his friends post in large type... 

Tarot Card of the Week: Five of Wands

Five of Wands: In short, this card is about conflict. The image depicts group conflict, the inability to work together, confusion, and competition. However, Five of Wands can also signify personal conflict as a result of internal or external circumstances, a difficulty coming to terms with a specific external situation, or a general tension caused by conflict between oneself and the family, social circle, workplace, society, or world. If Five of Wands signifies a group conflict for you, it may manifest as competition against several other worthy opponents where your talents will be tried against the talents of others. Readings of the card imply that this competition isn't a commonplace thing for you, but a new experience. If the card signifies group conflict, rather than competition, your point of view may be challenged by others, perhaps a group that you've been charged to work with, where compromise and teamwork are essential. The card also suggests that the only way out of this conflict, whether it be a group or personal one, is through the conflict. Fives, in the tarot, always depict conflict, but Wands are the suit of determination, inspiration, intuition, ambition and expansion; the implication here is that the result of the conflict will be growth, the expansion of ones' scope and humanity.

Five of Wands for Writers and Artists: A lot is made of personal, internal competition and conflict in the arts. But the elephant in the room is the competition waged with our fellow writers and artists. Even in group shows, performances and readings, situations which appear more cooperative than competitive, our talents are on display, compared and contrasted with the talents of the other artists taking part. And then there's competition in social media and the popular consciousness: which artists and writers are being talked about, which ones are most visible, which ones rise to the top because they're pleasant to listen to and look at, because they have a likable brand? A youthful aesthetic, voice, appearance, point of view, and ability to manipulate a virtual world that is quickly becoming our actual world, have become serious currency in the arts. The cult of youth is everywhere, has always been, but never more so than in our age of an all-pervading online culture. The ultimate prize is recognition. In the 'if a tree falls in the forest' paradigm, if a book is published and there's no buzz does that book exist? And recognition is often far from a reflection of merit, more like a perfect social media storm. If we don't have prizes, publications, or pictures of ourselves with the newest big winners to post on Facebook, we can still be annoyingly ever-present as writers #amwriting #wordmongering #wrotetoday. Very few writers can choose to opt out of social media, even micro publishers are beginning to require engagement with social media as part of the book contract. There's no arguing that being a brand and an artist are at odds, that the work of creating and the work of self-promotion repel each other. Artists have always shouldered the onerous task of self-promotion, but 24/7 maintenance of the curated self, the self as Pinterest board, Tumblr blog, Snapchat story, can be soul-deadening.
Now that I've played the devil's advocate, let me say that most writers and artists reading this, myself included, take part in social media for at least some self-promotion and in support of their creative careers. This doesn't make us all self-absorbed jerks. And in addition to professional posting, tweeting, blogging, we also share our successes and triumphs with one another. One reason I suffer the annoyances of social media is because I enjoy having a broad group of writers and other creatives in my life, even if I've never met the majority of them face to face and probably never will. Social media has become another one of those contemporary dilemmas, something that began as a fun activity, but which can be a time drain, procrastinating device, and a breeding ground for miscommunication, strife, self-aggrandizement and empty discourse. That's when we end up looking like the image on Five of Cards, a melee of conflict, competition, self promotion, confusion and cacophony. When the world becomes too much, my dancer friend Christina has been known to say: more dance. That's my prescription this week for Five of Cards syndrome: more art making for the hell of it and for the health of our souls.

Introducing Virginia Konchan!

Like a Prayer
Quiet.  It’s the sound of blood
gone arterial, the rhythmic
inhalations and exhalations
of an aged god, hooked
to life support, twin lung sacs
inflating mechanically.
Like doves.  Like a per diem
expense account.  Like clay.
In the midnight hour
I hear abandoned bear cubs
and sanitation trucks making
their rounds like a nurse
in an oncology ward.
Come closer.  Inject me
with the serum of immortality.
Quiet.  It’s the sound
of a supernova shredding it—
holy of holies, metaphor.

Helen Keller’s Baptismal Font
The heart is a quiet Euclidian space.
Pulling the body like wool on a loom.
God of computation, we are pods:
facsimile of our deepest fears.
Can ghosts learn linear algebra?
Can the walking dead believe?
Form is hell.  Formlessness is hell.
Form is ill and the void is full.
You are the consolations of philosophy,
content to merely appear.
You are the master craftsman’s
calloused hands, as they lift
to bless an infant: maiden voyage
of I will, I see, I hear.

I am the living bride of Johann Kepler.
I know what it means for planets
to spin according to celestial physics:
laws of motion, music of the spheres. 
Telescope, stethoscope, horoscope:
which mode of divination brings rain?
I sit upright on our tempurpedic mattress,
like a Nike or Artemis, yet suburban, tame.
And on the static television set,
live footage of a hurricane.
My voice, the very timbre
of indecision, until now.
I’m plagued by the love
I didn’t give.  The stain.

Virginia Konchan is the author of Vox Populi (Finishing Line Press, 2015), and a collection of short stories, Anatomical Gift (Noctuary Press, 2017).  Her poems have appeared in The New Yorker, The New Republic, The Believer, Boston Review, and elsewhere.  She is Co-founder of Matter, and an Associate Editor for Tupelo Quarterly.

Weekly Writing Prompt: Over lunch one day at graduate school, a fiction-writer friend told a group of us about the story he was working on written entirely in texts. Since that conversation, this type of story has probably been written thousands of times, but the idea is still a good one. Write a poem/story/essay using this as your inspiration, the form is up to you. Write entirely in: #hashtags, texts, tweets, FB posts, the equivalent of Snapchat 'stories', emoticons. This isn't just an experimental exercise, though there's nothing wrong with pure experimentation, it's a way to communicate through limitations, which is essentially what poetic form is. Some of us have scoffed at the idea of Twitter novels written in installments of 140 characters, but think of Hemingway's six word story: "For sale: baby shoes never worn". Hemingway's style would be perfectly suited to Twitter fiction! Just think of this as writing in a new form, which should simultaneously limit your choices and expand the possibilities. 

Next Week: Howie Good