BWS 10.05.17: What the Tarot Wants to Say to Writers, with Hoa Nguyen

Hoa at AWP.jpg

Hoa Nguyen was born in the Mekong Delta, raised in the Washington, D.C. area, and currently makes her home in Toronto. Her poetry collections include As Long As Trees LastRed Juice, Poems 1998-2008, and Violet Energy Ingots from Wave Books. She teaches poetics at Ryerson University, for Miami University’s low residency MFA program, for the Milton Avery School for Fine Arts at Bard College, and in a long-running, private workshop. 

Hoa gave the talk “What the Tarot Wants to Say to Writers” at our May 10 event, and below, brings it to life by interviewing her deck! An adept of the tarot for twenty years, and an internationally renowned leader of poetry workshops, this summer Hoa will conduct a workshop on Poetry and Divination for Poet’s House on June 24 with the poet Timothy Liu; they will also lead a longer version of this workshop for a Pelee Island Weekend Book House Escape retreat from September 8 – 10, 2017.

What the Tarot Wants to Say to Writers: Some Simple Advice

The tarot is an ancient symbolic system of archetypical significance and narrative structures. Rich in images, numeric resonance, and correspondences to other systems of divination (Kabbalah, astrology, and the I Ching), the Tarot can be used as a guide and source for inspiration.

How can one do this? I decided to ask the cards themselves. The deck I use is the Mythic Deck as illustrated by Tricia Newell and bought for me in San Francisco 1995 by my partner the poet/scholar Dale Smith.

Hoa Nguyen: Hello old friend. I want to thank you for letting me interview you for this essay. As you know, I’m a poet and student of your pattern system. I love your story-rich images and how they point to nodes of experience. They are like rooms I can enter and embellish with personal perceptions, perceptions that lead to further perceptions and insight.

I’d like to ask you two questions about how we can approach you with our creative questions. For the first question I’d like to draw two cards into a shape like that of the “crossing cards” at the center of the Celtic cross spread.

Can you say something about how the cards speak to the creative process?


Tarot: The central figure shown here is the writer expressed as the King of Wands—someone who represents innovation, creative passion, and courage. Like the beginning of spring (the star sign Aries), the writer must wield the fiery wand of creativity and burst with confidence and power.

But this creative power and life-vision needs to be directed with committed unity. The Lovers card calls for that devotion by asking us to choose to unite with bliss, to choose the writer’s life as a committed path. This might seem to be a choice of opposites—how can one choose be a creative writer and also make a living? But the Lovers card tells us that this binary is false. The writer must claim this path, otherwise the wish is suppressed and the creative person settles for less.

Together the cards say that the creative process needs the writer fully engaged in the creation of a stable alchemy. It asks that the writer make choices without haste for the opportunity to engage in a kind of soul work with great energy and love.

Hoa: What are three ways using the Tarot can benefit one’s writing?

TTarot2arot: (1) Balance, naturally. Sometimes writers use one side of their brains too much. The wise, creative mind is a balanced, dynamic mix of energies. A writer must at times work with research and logic—and at other times, the writer must wait, trust intuition, follow the uncanny or the synchronistic, and work with the watery realm of visions.

The work of the writer is to be decisive, to understand the vision of the work, and to proceed with honesty and detachment.

We depict the central seed of the writer’s mind as the wise eye of the “vesica piscis—the interlocking circles of yin and yang. This balance gives birth to perfect creation.


Tarot3(2) Sometimes you need seven swords; you just do. Here the investigative mind operates under the influence of reflective, intuitive consideration—the moon in Aquarius.

Writers must use the skills of guile, tact, diplomacy, and wit when approaching the creative act. This might mean using dream-work energy and listening to the sages as they instruct through the unconscious—to follow hunches and intuitive hits.

Sometimes writers are expert procrastinators and need to “trick” themselves into bringing their creative self into the public world or to get the writing onto the page. This card brings to mind the questions we like to ask writers:

  • Can you surprise yourself with new strategies for writing?
  • How can you pierce through old ideas?
  • Can you encourage yourself to be canny and find ways around your avoidance by tricking yourself into writing?



(3) This is what we think of as the emblem for a writer: a person who does the work and deals with the daily tasks. Here this energy is figured as Aristaeus, son of Apollo (the Greek god of art) and conductor of the “useful arts”. Thus the writer is like a keeper of bees: they must bring care to the conduct of the everyday and the humility and simplicity in that: self-care, reading, paying bills, keeping up the garden, performing acts of service, and so on. A writer claims their creative life through the cumulative efforts of endurance, duration, and right actions.




Check back in July for more tips from our next Brockton Writers Series guest speaker–-and before that, see you at our next event–Queer Night!–July 12, 2017, 6:30pm, at Glad Day Bookshop, 499 Church St., Toronto!


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