Translated by author Coleman Stevenson
Bibliomancy is divination by means of a book, opened at random or by intuitive impulse to a page or specific passage without reading beforehand, which is then interpreted in the context of the question asked.
For this interview, questions were posed to the pages of Light Sleeper (in bold). The answers (italicized text) are specific lines from poems that were selected through the process described above. The author of Light Sleeper, Coleman Stevenson, then provides interpretations/commentary on those answers, at times addressing The Book directly (regular text).
Question: Give three words to describe yourself.
Light Sleeper: Places, lightning, life.
Coleman Stevenson: I understand that. Sense of place is strong in these poems, though that place does shift from page to page. Lightning…life suggests energy, the lifeforce, which also pleases me. I hope these poems feel alive and full of power, and I also hope they have a life of their own separate from me, from biography. I’ve used the metaphor of Frankenstein’s monster in a poem before and I feel it applies to the creation of poetry/art as well. The creator pieces the body together, and then a spark gives it its own life. That spark could be the emotion the writer infuses it with, but it might also the what the reader/viewer puts in when encountering the finished work.
Q: What are you looking for in an ideal reader?
LS: Take off your shoes and stay awhile.
CS: I’d agree with that. It’s nice to think that a reader would be willing to commit some time, although there’s also something to be said for momentary experiences of selecting just one poem to read and consider at a time. Often in the past I’ve worked in sequences; my last book, Breakfast, for example, was a book-length series. While there are series and sequences scattered throughout Light Sleeper, the poems are much more separate this time. The organization and through-line were found after the individual poems were finsihed instead of planned in advance of writing.
Q: What about the writing style within your pages?
LS: It begins to itch… We are the displacers of what happened before.
CS: I like the thought that there is something agitating in these poems, either linguistically or in content. I also like this idea that personal experiences are manipulated as needed to make the art of the poems. Poems are NOT diary entries; they may draw from life, but they have lives of their own.
Q: What are you about, at your core?
LS: Disappointment. A room of one’s own.
CS: It’s true…disappointment inspired a number of these poems to be written. It’s an experience that has been dominant throughout my life. It’s also what has led me to embrace solitude more and more, though I’ve been a solitary creature my entire life. As many of these poems suggest, connection is challenging and not always worth the fraught experience. Time alone to think and freely be is essential, especially for artists. There’s also nothing wrong with discovering it’s your natural state, either, and nothing wrong with wanting to be self-reliant. That said, a book must find a reader…
Q: Why should people read these poems?
LS: Immortal horses trample the firmament. Black shutters, the one who went away, azaleas.
CS: Something’s going on out there, high above and forever as well as very grounded and temporary. This book is concerned with it all, with trying to figure out how to navigate between the two. It’s not a manual, exactly, but it contains attempts to process and adjust, to make magic from the mundane.
Q: Why should we read poetry in general?
LS: Feathers and lead.
CS: Absolutely. Life is shockingly light, and life is astoundingly heavy. Poetry can help us process whatever we are experiencing. Poetry is also a part of the alchemical process of transmuting baser metals into something more refined.
Q: What do you think about the image on your cover?
LS: Displaced within those walls, stay awhile.
CS: I so agree. There’s a lot to see there – many layers, dimensions. The work expands to accommodate you the more you push to enter it. Lucia Volker’s art in general is gorgeous and has an obsessive quality that I find infinitely appealing. Her use of repetition in compositions feels very poetic as well, as a poem is not a poem without its structure.
Q: Which poem is your personal favorite? And why?
LS: “Who will not run?” A no-man’s land.
CS: Interesting… That’s an older poem, more narrative than I how I typically approach composition now. I’m assuming you mean you are drawn to the poem’s depictions of something being erased? The main character in the poem takes that perspective as well – solitary witness to the last of something.
I recently led a Delve Seminar on volcanoes as metaphors for human experience in art and literature; we discussed the potential for violence or simply just action, a power within lurking within until it can no longer handle being suppressed. This poem definitely deals with the dichotomy of safe distance vs. being in the midst of destruction, as well as layers of mimesis. There’s the historical witnessing/description of the eruption, the child’s science fair experiment/diorama, and then the poem itself, giving us all that again. I hadn’t really thought of all that before, so thanks for making me reexamine this poem.
Q: How do you feel about being a Virgo?
LS: Never break over sour milk.
CS: And never let them see you sweat, even if you are constantly worrying. The appearance of strength, no matter what…masking emotions… I’ve witnessed these qualities in Virgos before, and I can definitely see a certain kind of control here, an attempt to hold it all together as a polished whole.
Q: How do you feel about being born during a pandemic?
LS: There are days to sit watch.
CS: Not a surprising answer for a book of poems, as writing poems is often about observing what’s happening around you and then figuring out how to translate that into art. I agree, this pandemic has given a lot of people much needed time to reflect on their lives and on the impact their ideologies have on others. I think it’s important to note, though, that not everyone has been able to be still and silent during these months. Essential workers are working more than ever to make sure everyone else has what they need. And others still are in dire situations because of loss of employment and other resources. So not everyone has been able to embrace the luxury of sitting and watching, but there was, at least in some sense, a shift in pace that forced many to reevaluate what is essential and what negative patterns we might be able to cut out of our lives. It’s a true Tower moment in that sense.
Q: What do these poems have to offer in the way of solace for challenging times?
LS: How to manage with the littlest possible.
Yes, how to manage with less, or as I was just saying, maybe how to figure out what matters most. I also hope this speaks to a certain economy of words. These poems are not as minimalist as some, but there are definite intentional gaps that I hope readers will want to fill in for themselves. Perhaps there will be personal revelations in the act of filling in those gaps.
Q: What do you hold most sacred?
LS: I might have been anything but now I am this.
CS: I’m hope you see this vessel as a sufficient resting place, but I agree – that’s barely the point. We should all be so fluid in our thinking. For most of us, attachment to form is everything.
Q: What is your weakness?
LS: I am the kind of woman who cries.
CS: Yes, I confess I also feel the weakness in this. The poems are somewhat confessional, but hopefully they present a range of emotions that readers will identify with. We need to remind ourselves, Book, that vulnerability is strength. We have nothing to be ashamed of.
Q: What is your love language?
LS: Trap doors – deadfall you in.
CS: Yes, this is probably true. Subterfuge. You don’t see it coming, and then it’s too late. 😉
Q: What is your attachment style?
LS: Your father’s house.
CS: It does seem that these poems are often pulling at the strings of the past. Memory drives much of the book – not that that’s an unusual thing for poetry. It’s typical. But it also might say something about people to whom this book will appeal. This calls to mind a dismissive-avoidant style, but one that is learning the lessons of the 6 of Cups tarot card. To be healthy in the present/future, the lessons of the past have to be learned.
Q: What archetype do you embody or identify with most?
LS: In that grave.
CS: I think this might be pointing to a Death/Rebirth narrative that is strong throughout Light Sleeper.
Q: What’s the biggest secret you’re willing to reveal?
LS: I’m pulsing green around the edges. I know my soul doesn’t live in my body. I am an astrological event.
CS: I’m actually rather surprised to hear this, given my animistic thinking (evidenced by the fact that I’m currently in a conversation with a book…). But maybe this means your soul isn’t confined to your physical pages – it can come and go, it can enter into other spaces and minds, mingling with whatever forces it chooses. That fits with your previous comment about what you hold sacred. I wouldn’t want it to be trapped here, anyway. I’m glad you feel like you are a cosmic thing, like aether moving in between everything that is. Thank you for inhabiting these pages for now.
Coleman Stevenson is the author of Light Sleeper (Deep Overstock, 2020), Breakfast: 43 Poems (Reprobate/GobQ Books, 2015), The Accidental Rarefication of Pattern #5609 (Bedouin Books, 2012), The Dark Exact Tarot Guide, and a book of essays accompanying the card game Metaphysik. Her writing has also appeared in a variety of journals and anthologies, and she is a regular contributor for tarot.com.