POETS ARE TIME-TRAVELERS: Ariana Reines & Emmalea Russo in Conversation

Emmalea Russo



It began on the full moon in Scorpio as I travelled from the New Jersey coast to Brooklyn with the windows down while I read Ariana Reines’ A Sand Book in bursts of solar energy, inhaling and exhaling its golden auric oddities and remembering that our identities are heliocentric but so too our solar selves pass into the galactic at some point. I was the passenger. There was traffic and A Sand Book points to traffic, both galactic and highway. Ariana and I are both poet-astrologer-travelers and our chat dips into multiple dimensions. Ariana knows that we are all always undercover, slipping between worlds and words, that indeed all worlds are various points on the same ever-expanding highway-line, and that we all contain every octave of wokeness.

I endeavored to ask Ariana about the birth of the universe, the necessity of poets, the suffering of women, the miracle of life, our holographic universe, the planetarization of consciousness, consciousness itself, what she eats for breakfast, Pluto and the underworld, the above-ground world, how she thinks about spring, and suns and poems as they traverse the ecliptic. But as time is a certain kind of wave structure, I asked her about only some of these things and our conversation oscillated between expansion and contraction as it birthed itself. We spoke of antennas, poets as time travelers, Los Angeles light, the body as it writes, resistance and channeling, a Leonard Cohen dream, and expanding the frame of the poem, among other things. Our full conversation with real voices and laughter, which was held on May 20th, 2019 as the sun passed through the final degrees of Taurus, solidifying the earthy center of spring in the northern hemisphere, can be heard on my podcast, The Avant-Galaxy. During the final several minutes of our audio chat, Ariana reads from A Sand Book and I cannot properly illuminate here the angular zap of its magnetism.


Emmalea Russo: Where are you?


Ariana Reines: I’m in LA. Soaking up the sun. I’m from Salem, Massachusetts so when I come here, there’s something about the light and the steadiness. It’s very nurturing.


E: When I’m in LA, I always feel very fed. The light is specific. It’s a different kind of light, a newer light. The east coast is more ancestral.


A: I think that’s very well said. The light isn’t the same anywhere on Earth. The way the sun hits the planet… The light is different everywhere. It’s true that there is something about the goldenness of the light here and its newness. It’s quite refreshing and there’s a reason why so many of these genocided messed up people dragged themselves here. (laughter)


E: I lived in LA for a while and I got reborn. I got into Kundalini Yoga. Speaking of Kundalini, is that where we met?


A: Yeah. We met in Kundalini.


E: I had read your work but when I saw you in that Kundalini class, there was that moment of dissonance. I don’t usually see “poetry people” in Kundalini and I felt very happy, like we were undercover agents.


A: I’m happy about that too. My job is to go into many worlds so it’s always nice when you run into another traveler. And you would think more poets would be travelling. And more will be. I was joking with a friend yesterday that I’ve achieved being a beat poet. I am one. I didn’t know that’s what I was going to get. Somebody’s gotta do it. So, yeah. It was great to see you there.


E: That was the only time we met?


A: That was the only time we met.


E: But I feel like know you.


A: That’s the creepy intimacy of literature.


E: It’s eerie and delicious.


A: But also, these times are like that.


E: The Internet.


A: We haven’t had it for that long.


E: No. In middle school, I was AIM chatting with my crushes. That was the start.


A: Yeah that’s huge. I think about that all the time. When people ask me what poetry is, I tell them no one really knows what it is. But everyone has had the experience of erotically communicating with the language that you choose and the rhythm of it is heavy with this energy of somehow wanting to get it right. The way that it is doing itself to you and the person you’re in dialogue with — that’s a mass experience now. So, it’s the perfect art form for this era because more people have the experience of the plasticity of language now. And yeah, it started on AIM. And then, this. (holds up iPhone)


E: Do you write poetry on your phone?


A: I do. Way back in the day I had a boyfriend who gave me a Blackberry. I got really attached to those buttons and I loved writing with it – I resisted the iPhone the way people who loved their typewriters resisted the word processor. I write a lot on my phone and I also write with a pen. I’ve typed a few masterpieces directly into my computer but it’s not a usual thing, it’ll happen maybe twice a year. I need a little resistance and it’s a little too…


E: Slippery?


A: Too slippery, yeah.


E: So, you like the resistance of the phone?


A: My notebook or phone. Phone is great.  It’s maddening in a way, and slippery too, but it’s a confined space, and it works.


E: The slipperiness of the computer is somehow what my brain needs. This makes me think of Mercury, your third book, and the nervous system and how we engage with technology and the impact that that has on our brains. Perhaps we are not ready for it. I think of alchemy and the nervous system as linked. We are both interested in these things. The process of distilling information. When I read Mercury and A Sand Book, I feel the expansion and contraction, the birthing process, within the book. I don’t know if that’s a question.


A: Thank you for saying that. It’s a beautiful assessment of the oscillating structure which you felt correctly, in my opinion. In many ways, A Sand Book is a record of a birthing. The expansion and contraction of consciousness into numinous experience and back into the shit and out again. That oscillating structure creates a tension that moves a work of art along. I was talking with a friend on the full moon about what we think of as the Christian-inflected new age versus a Judaic new age, because of course there are mystery traditions in every culture. But the American New Age as we know it, in my opinion, comes out of the Great Depression. But with those channelers, there is often a total absence of resistance. That’s a lot of what they preach. When they are receiving their messages, whether they claim they’re coming from angels or the Pleiades or a spirit familiar, there can sometimes be great lucidity in what they articulate, but I tend to like the mediums that throw up some kind resistance to what’s coming through – mediums who play, who kind of throw down, the way Jacob did with the angel. There are so many ways I could have made this book smaller or isolated the glory and just delivered that and cut out all the shit, but that would go against my religion – whatever my religion really is. I’ve always been excited by the idea, artistically, ethically, spiritually, of expanding the frame of what we can report on, of what, in our existence, deserves attention.  How do you integrate mystical experience into “normal life.” I don’t even know what normal life is anymore….That was a weird parabola of an answer. I don’t even remember the question. (laughter)


E: When I first got your book in the mail, I unwrapped it, put it on the coffee table, and had a bodily experience. It’s such a big book. I felt it in my body. I watched my thought process and I thought to myself “it feels like such a relief to have this big book here written by a woman.”


A: I’m glad you felt that. I wanted it to feel that way. We worked hard on the design so that people don’t even have to open it to get a lot out of it.  And I worked in other ways so it would carry a “very large charge” to borrow one of my favorite lines from Sylvia Plath…


E: It’s golden and it has a very yang or active energy. The sun, which I love, because I feel like people can mistake poetry for this utra-receptive, moon-centered endeavor. And it’s not. This speaks to this expansion and contraction. The book feels both maternal, as in, a container, and this thing that’s reaching out to me. It’s both. I just opened it to this page. What is this symbol? On page two-hundred.


A: So that’s a veve. This is a cosmic diagram in Haitian Vodou. Each spirit has a one that invokes them. In ceremony, there are any ways spirits are invited and invoked. Foods and drinks are brought to welcome them, but first a very crucial way that these energies and entities are invited into the space are these diagrams, drawn usually in cornmeal on the ground and activated with rum and with the energy of song and dance. I’ve always been really attracted to symbology, or to a hieroglyphic space where you’re both seeing and reading, and what’s before you is not merely language and not merely image and not “just” a symbol… It’s a mysterious combination of all of the above. All of the ways we are communicating extralinguistically.


E: Extralinguistically! As I was reading your book on the full moon on my drive into New York, I kept thinking about geomancy and the science of the sand. Throwing something up in the air and divining the situation based on where the sand or dirt or thing lands. Were you thinking of that?


A: I wasn’t literally thinking of geomancy but of course the book is traversing many different landscapes and thinking about different forms of resonance and resonating bodies, so you make a great point. All divination happens somehow at the intersection between chance and destiny or randomness and synchronicity. Or all life does…  It’s the X that we are moving through all the time and what gives it this delicious exciting flavor because if we already knew everything that was going to happen we would be sort of dead. That’s a different oscillating structure in the book. People really like to act like everything can be known. That’s like the various octaves of wokeness that are being deployed in these times. But, as your field of consciousness expands, likewise, so does the field of mystery expand. That’s just the way things are. So, that divinatory throwing the dice or throwing the sand is what poetry is made of. Otherwise, it’s a dull treatise on the nature of reality. The real foundation of all of our thinking and culture is poetry and that’s how it works right?


E: That is how it works. (laughter) Octaves of wokeness. Should that be the title of this? I love what you said about the X and I love the letter X. It’s exciting when the two lines of the X meet but there’s camera work being done in your book. It shifts back and forth between focusing on where the two lines meet and zooming out to where they are ever-reaching. This is why reading your book made me want to write. The wildness of the behind-the-scenes footage. It was a feeling not of “here is what I birthed” but rather “here is the birthing process.”


A: It’s funny. The book could have been twice as long. I’m a maniac for structure but I’m also a maniac for putting that stuff in because that’s what I want as an artist.


E: Me too.


A: When they don’t give it to me, I think they’re a coward. I’m like, thanks for the pretty flower of your best day but like, give me the juice. When I was younger, I read a lot of letters of the artists that interested me because in their letters, you could get the shit you actually wanted to hear about. The breakups. The bad relationships with their families. The weird physical problems. I wanted to put some of that energy into what I make. But i don’t want mere reality television or oversharing. I want it to have the charge of art. It’s very made but I put energy into trying to also manage and calibrate the shit of the real, so it feels alive without just being, like, more reality television or like, a colostomy bag…


E: You spent seven years writing A Sand Book. That’s a substantial chunk of time. It makes me think of all the things a body can go through in seven years. All the cells in the body get completely regenerated in seven years. What was your body like? In what shapes? Was it a channeling experience?


A: That’s a beautiful question. There was a lot of life during that time. I taught a lot and I was doing a lot of performances. I was going to housing court for my mother, who was in protracted eviction proceedings for more than three years and I wound up giving her my apartment and then she ended up back on the streets, I had a fancy job in Boston and my boss was a gross predatory creep and so I sued. A lot of things happened. This book was written in very different states and very different worlds. The structure isn’t chronological. The first section is the most recent part. “Arena” and “Safeway” are the most recent sections of the book. They are very Trump-era. I was doing these performances, one involving kung fu and one involving a tarantula. When your career is getting busy and you’re flying around all the time, there’s a weird loneliness to it. I was dating a busboy and I just wanted to be a waitress. I just wished I could be normal and have a normal romance and like, a cute life. So, there was a lot of that going on in my body. Trying to say yes to what was saying yes to me. Then there’s a poetics and rhetoric of filling and emptying. This has been in my work since the beginning. It must just be my metabolism. I love to be filled and to empty myself out. That’s a good school for inhabiting consciousness for me. Like in Kundalini, the bottom of your breath is the scariest part. It’s actually very very good for your overall capacity as a person, learning to really empty your lungs, to withstand that terror, and I find that i have done this instinctively as an artist always. I have a desire to empty myself but it’s not easy to do. In some ways, it’s discouraged because it can make your life really weird. But then all of a sudden your life fills up with wonder. So, there is a transcription at the end of the book that I don’t consider my writing. But, I did write it down. There are other poems that arrive from the beyond. I can tell you that for the final section, I was sitting on a bench on Allen Street facing Delancey and there was traffic going by you on either side. You might know that spot.


E: Yes, I do.


A: I was sitting on the bench and the thing started happening. We can talk about it or not.


E: Let’s talk about it.


A: I was filling. It began with a sunbeam that felt warm and lovely but then I noticed that that warmth and loveliness was expanding. It stayed and it was growing. So, I sat down and it kept growing and growing. For a while, I was sitting there with a stupid look on my face filling up with bliss. And you know, this isn’t the kind of thing that happens to me in New York City. (laughter) And then the thing started talking. I felt it reorganizing my apparatus in order to communicate these didactic statements to me, through me. I grabbed my notebook and I started to write and I looked down and realized I was writing right to left. It was a moment of hilarity. I don’t usually write right to left! But you do what you have to do in the moment.


E: Wow. You’re speaking of the section “Mosaic.” I read this section first. I read the beginning and end first and you wrote somewhere in this section that you felt a heat or warmth on the area of the head that you call your antenna. Are you talking about this area?


A: Where’s your antenna? Show me.


E: This is the area (points to top of head) in Chinese medicine they call the epilepsy point. I have epilepsy and when you press or put needles there, it helps. In acupuncture, they always stick a needle right there on me. So, it’s where we open up to the universe, maybe. The point where things come through. Or maybe sometimes too much comes through. It’s a portal.


A: I’m pressing on this point right now.


E: Me too. Doesn’t it feel good?


A: Yes. I want to talk to you so much about epilepsy.


E: We will.


A: My antenna is here. It’s just a little to the right of where a proper unicorn horn would be.


E: It feels good to press there. Well, we are basically just pressing on our heads at this point. (laughter) So, this was the voice that was speaking through you while you wrote it down and at one point, it said and you wrote: “THE SUFFERING OF WOMAN IS THE TRUE STORY OF THE UNIVERSE.” That reorganized my cells. I got full body chills. This must be the truth.


A: I had the same chill when it happened. It’s such a teacher because it means that in order to understand the true structure of the universe, we have to understand what the suffering of woman really is.  To know its structure.  To really study it. Everything from the menstrual cycle to the accumulated history of our experience, right up until right now with our sovereignty always in question and yet we are also the mystical ground where the miracle of life occurs. If the story of our suffering is the true story of the universe, we can learn something about how the universe came to be and how it unfolds, how it continues to bring forth as we do.


E: Yes. As I skipped around to different sections of the book while I was full moon-swirly and the whole book feels like that. You know how there’s an invisible river around every river and the health of the invisible river has to be amazing in order for the ecosystem of the river to function properly? I felt like the invisible river of this book and the actual river are both necessary and healthy here.


A: That’s so beautiful.


E: This all reminds me of the first thing we discussed, which was poet-travelers. I too think there will be more poets, partly because it’s economical, and so there will be more poet-travelers. I’ve let myself feel isolated in the past, separating the poet world and astro-traveling world but it feels expansive and true when they come together and that’s part of the reason I love your work. Why do you think there will be more poet-travelers and what will that look like?


A: By traveling, I mean moving through world and poetry is a teacher for how to do that. If you want to be a time traveler, you have to learn how to do things with time and poetry is the way to do that. Poets return the truth of the earth to the earth. We’ve always been here and we don’t only have to do it for our survival, but for the balance of the entire matrix. And of course, anyone can practice it. The more people who practice this art, the better. So, we need to be better time travelers and poets. There will be throngs and throngs and more and more of us. It’s really great, you know?


E: Yes. I know. (laughter)


Named one of Flavorwire’s 100 best living writers and “a crucial voice of her generation” by Michael Silverblatt, Ariana Reines is a poet, Obie-winning playwright, performing artist, and translator.  Her newest book is A Sand Book, out June 18 from Tin House.  She keeps a private astrology practice at lazyeyehaver.com & constantly performs & teaches around the world.

Emmalea Russo’s books are G (Futurepoem) and Wave Archive (Book*hug). She has been an artist in residence at the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council and the 18th Street Arts Center, and a visiting artist at The Art Academy of Cincinnati and Parsons School of Design. Venues where she has shown or presented her work include The Queens Museum, BUSHEL, Poets House, Flying Object, and The Boiler. She is a practicing astrologer and sees clients, writes, and podcasts on astrology and art at The Avant-Galaxy.