Book Review

Alison Stone, From the Fool to the World, Parallel Press, 2012

Reviewed by Tim McLafferty

0. The Fool

Say yes. Don’t look.

Every journey starts
with the eager dog of the heart.

Zero is an egg
that holds all numbers.

If you won’t dance,
then who’s the fool?

Inside my cloth bag—apple,
table, stallion, sky.

Come! The rich
cliff tempts like wine.

And so we leap into From the Fool to the World, Alison Stone’s series of twenty two poems, each based on a card from the major arcana of the tarot. Stone offers lean and sparkling poetry that invites us to join with it—poems that are, in their way, multi-faceted spaces to explore, discovering what we may, and grafting what we bring.

The tarot deck, first created to be used as playing cards, has certainly evolved into something else, each image on the card acquiring meaning, both codified and intuited; in itself, this is ekphrasis in action over several centuries. Stone, who has spent a decade painting the entire deck, has not merely looked at these cards and written—she has created deeply considered and finely crafted poetry.

With all things seen, the rewards go to the lingering eye, and regarding ekphrasis, and the Rainer Maria Rilke poem, "Archaic Torso of Apollo," Ursula K. Le Guin wrote—

True myth may serve for thousands of years as an inexhaustible source of intellectual speculation, religious joy, ethical inquiry, and artistic renewal. The real mystery is not destroyed by reason. The fake one is. You look at it and it vanishes. You look at the Blond Hero—really look—and he turns into a gerbil. But you look at Apollo, and he looks back at you. The poet Rilke looked at a statue of Apollo about fifty years ago, and Apollo spoke to him. ‘You must change your life,’ he said. When the genuine myth rises into consciousness, that is always its message. You must change your life. (Myth and Archetype in Science Fiction (1976))

How this works into the poems of From the Fool to the World is that they are more than descriptions of images; the cards spoke to Stone, and she speaks to us, starting with— “Say yes. / Don’t look. / Leap!”

We must, or can, or might be, changing our lives.

Often, the poems press us to live now, to discover and thrive in the beauty of what is here around us, as in "I. The Magician"— “The true magician / summons heaven down to earth, / where it can blossom.”

Again, in "III. The Empress"— “Do not lament / to the sky, seeking / distant heaven. This world / you drag your feet upon / is paradise.”

As a final example, from "XII. The Hanged Man"— “Surrender / will transform the rope around your leg / into a lover’s hand.”

Female strength is proclaimed, and emancipation offered, in "II. The High Priestess," a poem illustrative of gender conflict, fear, and the deep and destructive impact of often and thoughtlessly repeated truisms:

Red of pomegranate. Red of blood.
Hollow men, does my blood
scare you? And you, timid ladies
who won’t claim my name?

Almost central to the set, inexorably turning, is the pantoum "X. The Wheel of Fortune," a brilliant construction that seamlessly melds form and content. In reading, we move up and down within the balanced form of the poem. Additionally, the X itself acts as a hub, spinning us back to the first poem and forward to the last:

X. The Wheel of Fortune

From my eternal turning, everything
that falls can rise and what goes up
can plummet like a torn balloon.
I am painted with the law of fate.

What falls can rise and what goes up…
An old story, thick with questions.
I am painted with the law.
The breath of this law is concealed in its letters.

History thickens with questions.
The way the moon masks herself as a woman
and the breath of the law is concealed in its letters,
the Grail hides in your kitchen sink.

Old moon masked as a woman,
soul obscured by flesh,
the Grail hides in your kitchen sink.
Wealth passes into winter, war into song.

The soul costumes itself as flesh,
can plummet like a torn balloon.
Wealth passes into winter, war into song.
From my eternal turning, everything.

Again, Stone matches form to content with a seductive dance of temptation and surrender in the villanelle "XV. The Devil"—

There is no heaven, nothing more than this
dull job, poor health, lifeless relationship.
Dance to the music of the fire’s hiss.

Leave any time you like—the loose
chains I drape don’t bind you. Have a nice trip.
There is no heaven, nothing more than this.

In "XIV. Temperance," we find balance—

I understand you are only human.
Still, why let yourself be bumped from center
by recycled heart hungers or the lust beast.
Throw away your book of rules. Stop boring everyone
with resolutions. Just plant
one foot on land, the other
in the cold school of the sea.

Haunting in a most contemporary way, and in illustration of ongoing ekphrasis and grafted and gathered meaning, we find—

XVI. The Tower

Stones of money,
bricks of sex divide you

from the wind, the wild stars.
Trapped inside my walls, you

miss the tocsins.
Pressure’s building fast.

Do you think
lightening comes from outside?

Too late now. The bolt
sears me like love.

I’m crumbling.

Which god
will you pray to

as you leap
into a sky alive with fire?

On a primary level, From the Fool to the World is steeped in meaning and artistry, no need to see or know the tarot to experience these poems. Secondly, in looking at the tarot, and Stone’s in particular, another layer of understanding is certainly added, which enhances the poems. I’d like to point out that this is no weakness, as I’d run to look at Brueghel after reading Williams, or Pissarro after reading Jeanine Stevens; viewing and rereading, only to find and celebrate the combined strength of word and image. And thirdly, a minimum of personal information about the poet, who is a practicing Gestalt therapist, adds further significance to the gathered weight of this collection. I recommend.

Tim McLafferty lives in NYC and works as a drummer. He has played on Broadway in Urinetown, Grey Gardens, and many other interesting places. His work currently appears in many fine journals, including Forge, Painted Bride Quarterly, Pearl, Portland Review, and Right Hand Pointing. Visit