Spotlight on Alison Stone
In addition to being a psychotherapist practicing in New York, Alison Stone is an award-winning poet, a visual artist, and the creator of The Stone Tarot. She has published numerous books and chapbooks of poetry and her work has appeared in many journals and anthologies. Her newest book, Informed, which will be published by New York Quarterly Books in the near future, is filled with poems that accommodate both physical realities and spiritual realms. She discusses them here in our Spotlight interview, and so much more.
Your paintings are wonderful, especially your Tarot deck work. Do the objects included in the individual cards match up enough to traditional decks so that beginners can arrive at basically the same inferences?
Yes! It was important to me to stay with traditional imagery, unless I had a reason to change it. For example, my Strength card shows the woman opening, rather than closing, the lion’s mouth. While less common, this was used in some traditional decks and makes more sense to me, since it’s about controlling powerful energy, not stifling it. I also changed the gender of two of the horse riders. Some artists try to achieve gender balance by replacing Knight and Page with Prince and Princess, but I wanted to keep the active energy of the rider and the youthful energy of the Page. So for Cups and Pentacles, I made the horse rider an Amazon and the Page a male.
Are you able to employ Tarot in your psychotherapy practice? In the writing of your poetry?
If a client wants to use Tarot, then I do. I actually have an idea for a nonfiction book about Tarot and healing that I haven’t had time to start writing. Many artists use Tarot imagery in their work. T.S. Eliot used it in The Wasteland. Recently, Marjorie Jensen edited a whole anthology of Tarot poems. Right now I’m reading Timothy Liu’s collected poems, which he arranged around the Tarot rather than by which books the poems appeared in.
The title of your new book of poetry is Informed. Are you speaking to the fact that your poems are structured, or that they have taken on the task of being informative, as so many tackle extinction, political upheaval, climate change, and other subjects people are afraid to look at?
I was hoping readers would get both meanings. There are so many scary things happening now, but if we don’t look at them, we can’t do anything about them. Also, I write what’s in my consciousness at the moment, and at this stage of my life, I’m deeply concerned about the fate of our democracy, and of the planet.
What is it about form that compels you? Have you always written in formal verse?
That’s a great question. I started writing almost entirely free verse, with the occasional sestina or ghazal thrown in. Then I started really digging into ghazals. Some of it was that I’m neurodivergent, so the pattern of the ghazal is both easy and satisfying for me. Also, because I’m a mom and a therapist, I rarely get stretches of time to write. With ghazals, I can write a couplet, see a few clients, write another couplet, deal with family logistics, etc. One thing I love about ghazals is that the form demands the kind of large poetic leaps that I don’t take in my free verse. Though I love free verse as well. My last book, To See What Rises, is the first entirely free verse book I’ve ever published. I wrote it at the same time as Informed and split the poems that way.
Some of the forms you use require you to repeat words and phrases. The repetition truly animates the language. Can you talk about this process?
Ghazals repeat the same word or phrase throughout. With pantoums, another form I love, each line repeats once. I love the challenge of making the repetition matter. The line needs to do more the second time. Also, and this again goes back to being a working mom, with a pantoum I only have to write eight lines. If they work with the form, I end up with a 16-line poem.
Birthday after birthday, the narrator in your long piece entitled “Suburban Development” wishes for magic to be real. In “Poem Inspired by a Line by Natalie Diaz,” lovers long for boundaries to dissolve. Can you talk this yearning to move beyond? Where do you, an artist and poet, stand with the likelihood of it actually happening?
That’s a spiritual yearning I can’t ever remember not having. And I’m lucky, because I’ve had it satisfied numerous times. I’m Pagan, so sometimes during ritual (but not always, or even often). Sometimes during yoga or meditation (but again, I’ve had a daily practice for decades, and it’s a rare gift.) Sometimes during sex or while being in nature. Once when I was invited to be part of a friend’s home birth (though not during my own!).These were moments, not a one-time, “now I’m enlightened” type of thing that lasted. Though I’m open to that in the future!
There is a lot here about growing up, what we take with away us in memories, and what we leave behind. The narrator in “Cargo” says, “Everywhere I go, I take my dead.” That’s a rather wonderful concept. Does taking along one’s dead change the way one looks at the world?
People say “S/he is still with you in your heart,” which sounds pat when I hear it. What I experience is the love mixed with longing and the grief of them being absent. That’s what I carry.
Have you ever, or might you ever, write prose?
I started as a prose writer, mostly short stories but I had dreams of a novel. I started my first novel, The Adventures of Scruffy, when I was in elementary school, but I didn’t get very far. I never thought about writing poetry, and I didn’t read it. But for my fiction major, I had to take a poetry workshop to fulfill distribution requirements. The problem was, you had to submit poems to get in. I submitted a short story and some song lyrics, and I got rejected. So during my semester abroad, I took an independent study with the poet Hugo Williams. I changed my major to poetry and didn’t pick up prose again until about a year ago, when I suddenly found myself writing stories again. I wrote five and got the first two published. Now I’m back to poetry.
What are you currently working on?
I have two manuscripts in the final editing phase. Both are a mix of formal and free verse. One plays with a translation activity that I thought of (I don’t want to give too much away). Both have haiku sequences. I love the way haiku can build on each other, certain images coming back, changed, almost like in a pantoum. The one common form I haven’t done much with, yet, is sonnets, except for “Suburban Development,” which is a jeweled sonnet crown. So many poets are right now, I keep thinking I should. Though “should” isn’t a very rich starting place for poetry. So I’ll wait until I feel drawn toward them again rather than ordered.
Alison Stone is the author of nine full-length collections, Informed (NYQ Books, forthcoming), To See What Rises (CW Books, 2023), Zombies at the Disco (Jacar Press, 2020), Caught in the Myth (NYQ Books, 2019), Dazzle (Jacar Press, 2017), Masterplan, a book of collaborative poems with Eric Greinke (Presa Press, 2018), Ordinary Magic, (NYQ Books, 2016), Dangerous Enough (Presa Press 2014), and They Sing at Midnight, which won the 2003 Many Mountains Moving Poetry Award; as well as three chapbooks. Her poems have appeared in The Paris Review, Poetry, Ploughshares, Barrow Street, Poet Lore, and many other journals and anthologies. She has been awarded Poetry’s Frederick Bock Prize and New York Quarterly’s Madeline Sadin Award. She was Writer in Residence at LitSpace St. Pete. She is also a painter and the creator of The Stone Tarot. A licensed psychotherapist, she has private practices in NYC and Nyack.