I own the Poet Tarot deck from Two Sylvias Press and was very interested in the idea of a smartphone app for the deck. The original deck is a marvelous focusing device for poets who want to expand their writing habits or career growth. That said, a smartphone app seems like a great idea–guidance on the go, so to speak. I also wasn’t terribly comfortable with the idea of carrying a tarot deck in my purse. The deck has nothing to do with the occult or religion, but somehow I saw a future of weakly explaining that to no effect here in the buckle of the Bible belt. On the other hand, the Poet Tarot iPhone app (also available for Android through Google Play) is a fast, easy way to focus in on daily writing tasks or long-range plans without the bulk or the explanations. It also has the potential for improvising invention prompts or strategies for poetry classes or workshops.
First off, this is not a replacement for the full deck with guidebook that is available through Two Sylvias Press for $52. After all, the app is only $3.99 ($4.99 for Android). That gives a clue that it may not be as versatile as the hands-on deck and guidebook. From a user’s standpoint, the main difference is that the app only calls up one card at a time, ruling out three or five card layouts on a single screen. Some layouts call for separating out the Poets cards and the suits cards while using only one. That would be hard to duplicate in the app. However, if you already have the deck and guidebook, the more complex layouts can still be constructed one card at a time and the prompts that take one of the Poets cards or one of the suits can still be done by selecting again if you get the wrong type of card.
If anything, the singe-card focus can be an advantage. This is a daily prompt or daily focus device that through the Poet cards helps poets connect with the inspirations and thematic concerns of major poets from the past such as William Butler Yeats or Robert Lowell, or even more recent poets such as Denise Levertov. The suit cards divide up different aspects of a poet’s professional life–Muses, Quills, Mentors, and Letterpresses– giving guidance for all the details that make up po’ biz such as readings, mentoring, editing, and so on. Adding this app to a daily writing routine could help writers find fresh direction when inspiration went down the street for a cup of coffee.
In a classroom or workshop setting, it can answer the eternal plea, but I don’t know what to write. The cards may not tell what to write, but they can show what other writers have found fruitful and even help students learn more about great poets or even inspire them to read poetry by a poet they did not know before. For example, when I took “Nature of Poetry” as an undergraduate in the 1990s, a large proportion of the class had heard of Yeats (to use the example card illustrated), but clearly had not read his poems. These were the students who would go on to MFA programs and to be English teachers in middle school and high school classrooms. If students who already declared their love of literature by their major lack the background, then the general education students who take poetry classes to fill a fine arts or culture requirement will surely get a lot from this app. The app would be wonderful for a workshop class where students have the desire for writing good poetry, but very often do not have the reading background to know what has come before them or even what is being done now.
In short, this is a great writer’s tool. Practicing poets will find it a good part of their daily routine. Aspiring poets can use it to stay on track. People who don’t write poetry and never will can still use it to focus on their writing, and who knows? There may be a poem in them somewhere, waiting to get out.
Note: Two Sylvias Press was kind enough to offer the app to poets with blogs who wanted to try it out, and I was one. Given my academic background in social media (emerging social software) and being a poet as well, it was a safe bet that I would use this app. This is my way of saying that yes, they gave it to me for free, but that is in no way different than a book reviewer getting the book in the mail so that a review could be written, something that happens without anyone thinking twice.