Friday, December 20, 2019

REVIEW: Annie Finch's The Poetry Witch: Little Book of Spells

The Poetry Witch: Little Book of Spells by Annie Finch, Wesleyan University Press (2019) $6.95, trade paperback, (64 pages) 4.2” x 0.5” x 6.2”

You may be familiar with the maxim, Good things come in small packages. That saying could well have been created to describe this book, which is small in size but large in scope and beautifully organized.

In an online note to me, Annie Finch mentioned that Little Book of Spells is connected to her much larger and previously published book, Spells: New and Selected Poems, published in 2013 by the same press.

Little Book of Spells will hold interest for many readers, not only for its poetry, but also for its use of fonts and color. The titles of the main sections of the poetry are all set in bold face caps (often abbreviated as “bfc” especially by professional editorial personnel) In this book, these section titles are: East: Casting; North: Wheel of the Year; West: Covening; South: Creating; Center: She Who. Readers who are active or at least familiar with Pagan and Wiccan ritual will recognize that these are the major parts in the ritual circle casting. In the table of contents, the poem titles in these sections are set in very light typeface and, in fact the use of such light type is my major criticism of this book. Not only the names of the poems in the table of contents, but also some sections in the fore matter and the back matter are printed in type several shades lighter than the other sections of the book. The light type is hard-to-read for many people and includes the Acknowledgments section in the back matter, the “Poet’s Note” in the fore matter, and the subtitles in the table of contents (since they are short, however, they–at least for me–do not pose as much of a reading problem as the Acknowledgments and other longer light-printed sections).

Most of the poems themselves are printed in regular dark (but not bold) typefaces, although some, apparently to contrast with the color of the background on which they are printed, are printed in white. In another unusual aspect, the poems in the book are generally only 1-4 lines long. Here are some examples of these short yet usually deep poems:

The first poetry section, whose 2 title pages and 2 of its 5 poems are set in white type on a deep yellow background and titled East, North, West, South, and Center, opens with this poem for “East:”
“Web-weaver spin the air;
Sing dark; sing light; aware”

The 2nd section, is “Wheel of the Year.” Its title pages and 2 of its 9 poems (8 of which are related to individual Pagan holidays) are set in white on a green background. One of these, “Litha” is an illustrated one-liner:
“Point your fire like a flower.”
Also illustrated and in the same color scheme, the poem for “Yule” reads:
“Vines, leaves, roots of darkness, glowing.
Come with your seasons, your fullness, your end.”

In the the 3rd section, “Covening,” title pages and 2 of its 5 poems are set in white on a blue background. Its closing poem, “Communion,” reads:
“Now the worshipping savage cathedral our
mouths make will lace
death and its food, in the moment that refracts
this place.”

In the 4th section, “Creating” title pages and 2 of its 6 poems have white type on orange background. In it, a poem titled “Nightmare” reads:
“Nightmare, oh woman lost in the depths of me,
Lost to the rage that has risen up with me,
Lost till I ride you home – nightmare of me.”

“She Who,” the 5th and final section, has title pages and 3 of its 9 poems set in white type on deep blue background. All but one of the poems in this section are named for Goddesses. For example, its poem, “Yemaya” reads:
“Star of the ocean, flow wide in us;
Blessings, grow round and abide in us.”

Regarding the length and size of this book─that depends on how you count and measure. considers the book 64 pages long and the measurements in inches at the top of this review are Amazon’s. I count the pages this way: poetry sections, 49 pages; front matter, 7 pages; back matter, 4 pages. (These do not include the blank pages.) My measurements in inches differ only in the depth, which my tape measurer tells me is less than half an inch. However, this may reflect compacting that occurred in shipping.

Ways of counting pages may vary, but of one thing I'm sure: In size, use of color, and text of poems, Annie Finch’s The Poetry Witch: Little Book of Spells will be considered by many readers as one of the most inventive poetry books one can obtain.

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Wednesday, October 30, 2019

REVIEW: Susan Hawthorne's The Sacking of the Muses

The Sacking of the Muses by Susan Hawthorne, Spinifex Press 2019, trade  paperback, 227 pages. Also available as an e-book.

If you should chose to read The Sacking of the Muses, in addition to being treated to innovative poetry, you will also receive an education in various mythologies and languages, including Greek, Roman (Latin) and Sanskrit

Susan Hawthorne’s Prologue to this book includes: her meeting with another influential poet who became a friend while Hawthorne was beginning work on this book; the influence of Sanskrit on her work, including a form unique to Sanskrit poetry; and the influence of ancient Greece on her work, including the Greek goddess Mnemosyne. Five sections follow the Prologue: Temper of the Dance, Embrace, Sappho’s Butterfly, The Sacking of the Muses, Mnemosyne. Each of these has several poems, with the exception of the first and last sections, each of which has only one. The book ends with an Acknowledgments section giving the dates of the initial publication of some of the poems, beginning in 2007. In her Prologue, Hawthorne comments:
“The final sequence of poems in this book was written before, during and after the election of Donald Trump.”

I am pleased to give you a taste of the excellence and often unusual quality of  the poetry in this book by discussing just a few of its poems. Much of the poetry is followed by notes, usually of explanation. For example, the first poem of the book (and the only poem in the section, Temper of the Dance), consists of 9 lines, and is titled, anupada.It is dedicated to Mangai, the friend whose entry into Hawthorne’s life at the time she began working on the book she calls “serendipitous.” This 9-line form , each with differing words, closes each of the 3 sets of poems in Temper of the Dance, love, exile, and war. The poems in each of the sets bear the names of the characters they describe. For example, the first poem titled “Pūtanā,” contains these lines:
“Pūtanā’s tale is not a pretty one
Asked to kill every boy in the land….”
The second poem in love is “Kunti 1,” which begins:
 “This girl has a secret which she holds
 so close that no one knows….”
The form Hawthorne uses for this poem includes (among other things) doubling the verses and word use,(which tends to increase the meanings). Pūtanā and “Kunti 1” are followed by Ambā I, Draupadi 1, Kunti 2, and anapada. The poems in exile and war have similar numbered names and each ends with an anapada.
In the section titled exile, Hawthorne explores the relationship among these and other characters and various deities, including Krishna. The section, war, discusses the effect of war on the characters.

The next section of poems, titled Embrace, begins with a poem titled “Ślesaş.” Hawthorne , a lesbian, explains in the last line of the poem’s “note,” that śleşa means “embrace” and in the poem's 2nd verse writes:
“śleşa comes naturally to lesbians
our codes read this way and that
are you on the upper bunk going east
or the lower bunk going west?”
The rest of the section contains 17 poems, many of them related to various deities.

The 3rd section, titled Sappho’s Butterfly, opens with the following lines in a poem  of that name:
“I’m twenty-two when I’m kissed by Sappho’s butterfly
at nine I vow not to marry before twenty-three”
Many of the 18 poems in this section relate to being a lesbian.

The 4th section, The Sacking of the Muses,” has 20 mythologically-related (with a focus on muses) poems, Their subjects include Kalliope, Polyhymnia, Ourania, Erato, Kleio,Thalia, and Terpsichore.

The last secion, Mnemosyne, contains one poem, “The Festival Of Memoria.”
Susan Hawthorne is an accomplished poet. We have reviewed three other of her books on Medusa Coils: Cow (a poetry collection), Lupa and Lamb (poetry with some prose) and the novel, Dark Matters.  Much of her focus is on women and mythology. She is author of 8 other poetry collections, as well as several books of fiction and non-fiction and of 11 anthologies. She has received numerous awards and her books in English have been translated into 5 other languages at last count. She is also translator of other writers’ work. She lives in Australia, where she is editor of Spinifex Press.


Saturday, August 31, 2019

Buzz Coil: July-August

Here are some notes about recent posts from blogs on our blogroll: 

Association for the Study of Women & Mythology: Many events are announced in the August postings of the ASWM blog. I'm posting them here in the same order they appear on the blog, which may vary somewhat from the chronological order of posting.

The Aug. 15 post, "Online Scholar Salon with Kathy Jones" gives information about an online program, "Motherworld: Creating a Life-affirming Society for All," scheduled for Sept. 25.
 The Aug. 28 post, "Kore Award for Best Dissertation...." announces the opening of this award competition on Sept. 16, what its focus is, past winners, the schedule for the 2020 Award and a link to an application.
The Aug. 20 post, "Matriarchal Studies...New Bilingual Site," created by The Academy HAGIA, has arrived and is available in both English and German. It is free and licensed by Oxford University Press.
The Aug. 10 post announces "38th Annual Women and Spirituality Conference," to be held Sept 20-22 in Rochester, Minnesota.
Aug. 5 post announces the 2020 ASWM Conference, is scheduled for March 13-14 in a suburb of Albuquerque, New Mexico. 

Fellowship of Isis Central: This organization's Aug. 27 post, "Temple of Isis Convocation 2019," honors the Goddess Anuket and the God Hapi and will be held in Geyserville, CA. This is an annual convocation. The post gives further information about this year's event.The Aug. 11 post, "New Italian Translations," gives information on the updating of these from the Handbook of the Fellowship of Isis

Annelinde's World: Annelinde Metzner's posts are her poems. Her July 12 post, is a"Prayer for the Wood Thrush," which begins:

"On this exquisite New Moon of May,
the Wood Thrush has returned, exuberant, virtuosic,
casting its heartbreaking riffs 

into the eager ears of the woods."
With pics and links to videos and recordings.
Her July 5 post, "Convivencia," is about a Sephardic  music tradition. Here is a quote from the poem:
"Hundreds of  years of music and peaceful coexistence,
     Muslim, Christian, Jew,
     here in these cobblestone streets of Spain,
     France, Morocco, Egypt,
     these ancient Mediterranean lands
     where all the faiths lived comfortably, side-by-side."
With several pictures.
Her July 1 post, "Highlander Fire," is about a recent fire set by white supremacists in Tennessee. With several pictures.

HecateDemeter: Here are just a few of the posts from the most recent 2 month's work of this very prolific blogger:
The Aug. 3 and Aug. 10 posts, both titled "My World and Welcome to It,"  are about Hecate's new home in the Blue Ridge Mountains. With many pictures.
Though the blogger has a new home, "The Magical Battle for America" series is still part of this blog. In the Aug. 25 and July 28 posts, blogger Hecate focuses on the aspect of this series she calls "The Cowboy" and on Aug. 25, asks you to "think of someone who must be stopped and brought to justice." Guess what 4 people she lists. The Aug. 18 post focuses on "Le Saumon," title  (in French) of Salmon as shown on the "banner." She then focuses on types of Wisdom and suggests you "Ask Salmon what particular wisdom you can share with those you meet." The Aug. 8 post focuses on Walden Pond, Thoreau, prairies, buffalo, and elections. The Aug. 6 post focuses on "Tricksters" (Fox, Bugs Bunny, Hermes, Raven, etc.).
Also continued on this blog is Hecate's earlier series, "A Witch Without a Place." In Chapter 3, posted Aug. 17, we meet a good-looking fellow named Paris as he tries to convince his daughter, Chessy, to eat a peanut butter sandwich. And yes, Gemmy (familiar to people following the series from the previous version) appears in this chapter.  

PaGaian Cosmology: From her home in Australia, Glenys D. Livingstone writes in two posts about celebrating spring season holidays. Her Aug. 3 post "Our True Nature: At the Centre of Creativity" explores the relationship of spiritual symbolism of Imbolc/Early Spring to our lives; her July 26 post "Imbolc/Lammas Season," explores the celebrations marking this season at various places in the world. 

Brigid's Grove: Blogger Molly's Aug. 17  post considers "A Prayer for Cauldron Time." Her July 30 post "Lammas Magic and Cauldron Month Resources," is about the month in which the first harvest is celebrated beginning (in Earth's Northern Hemisphere) on or about Aug. 1 (Lammas). Both posts have illustrations.

Because of the large number and variety of bloggers and posts on the following blogs, we suggest you visit them and select the posts that interest you most. 

Feminism and Religion: Many bloggers from various religions and paths.

Pagan Square: This blog of many mostly-Pagan paths is sponsored by BBI Media and includes SageWoman blog posts.

The Motherhouse of the Goddess: Blog affiliated with Motherhouse Podcasts and Mystery School.
The Wild Hunt: Pagan, news-oriented blog that has grown from single blogger to many bloggers. 


Friday, June 28, 2019

Buzz Coil: April-May-June

Here are some notes about recent posts from blogs on our blogroll:

Annelinde's World: Annelinde Metzer's May 24 post, "Sara La Kali, is a poem about the Romani Saint's Day for Sara La Kali in the French town of Saintes-Marie-de-la-Mer (aSara's Saint's Day just happens to fall on my birthday [as well as Bob Dylan's]. What do you make of that?) There are several stories or myths about Saint Sara. Among them, that Sara was the daughter of Mary Magdalene and Jesus, another that she was a servant of the holy family. Metzner gives additional explanation at the end of this poem with links to a video of the celebration of Sara La Kali's feast day and with photos. The blogging poet gives us poems that are tributes to the Goddess on May 5, with "The Sky in May," and on April 25 with "As Spring unfolds." Both with photos. 

Pagaian Cosmology: Australian author Glenys  D. Livingstone's June 16 post, "Solstice Season--Winter/Summer @ EarthGaia 2019 C.E." explores the similarities and differences between the solstice celebrations in Earth's northern and southern hemispheres. Her June 13 post, "Cake for the Queen of Heaven and Earth," introduces "the Winter Solstice Communion blessing as it has been done in the PaGaian tradition" and its relation to the biblical passage in Jeremiah about women continuing to bake cakes for the Goddess Astarte though it had been forbidden. On June 10, Livingstone's post is "We are Gift of Goddess-Mother Supernova." The title is a reference to the Goddess Tiamat and the star named for her.   

Fellowship of Isis Central: FOI's June 21 post, " Happy Summer Solstice," is a ceremony for the holiday that begins with incense activation and the instructions, "Let there be music throughout the ceremony." The May 26 post, "FOI Chicago Annual Goddess Festival" gives details about the upcoming Oct. 3-5 event. The April 23 post "Beltane Isian News 2019" links to the full recent edition of the "News."

HecateDemeter: Noting that she is writing on the anniversary of William Butler Yeats' birth, in her June 13 post, "Pre-Moving Potpourri," Hecate contemplates her move from a DC Suburb "to my new home in the mountains."  Among other things, she is looking for guest posters for her blog while she gets settled. Her series "The Magical Battle for America," continues in the posts of June 9 (Lady Liberty); June 2, May 26, May 19, May 12, May 6 ( bald eagles and other animals); April 28 (introduces Bald Eagles as a new magical symbol in the series), April 21 (eagles); April 14 (landbase and politics), April 7 (landbase). The fiction story "A Witch Without A Place" reappears from a few years ago (remember Gemmy?) in a April 30 and June 4 posts. In the post of May 1 "Blessed Beltane," a video follows her April 30 "A Prayer to Aphrodite at Beltane," that begins
"This is a prayer to Aphrodite.  This is a prayer for Resistance.
This is a prayer for love and beauty.  This is a prayer for Resistance.
This is a prayer for wine and roses.  This is a prayer for Resistance.
This is a prayer for orgasm.  This is a prayer for Resistance."  

Association for the Study of Women and Mythology:  ASWM's June 20 post is an obituary for ASWM member "Dr. Savithri Shanker De Tourreil" who died 2 days before at the age of 84. Part of the obituary reads: "Dr. De Tourreil. . .held degrees in English literature and religious studies. . . " At AWSM, she "presented foundational and engaging studies on the matrilineal cultures and customs of Kerala. Her groundbreaking ethnographic doctoral research on women-centered social customs among the Nayar community, *Nayars in a South Indian Matrix: A Study Based on Female Centered Rituals* (Concordia University, Montreal, Quebec, 1995) continues to serve as an inspiring model of feminist ethnography, feminist religious studies, matrilineal kinship, goddess scholarship, Hindu women, social change and social customs."

 Broomstick Chronicles: A June 11 post by Macha NightMare (aka Aline O'Brien), "AAR 2017-IV (2017)," discusses witch burnings in Norway (16th-17th centuries) and shows parts of the process with many photos. (Also published on June 12 in COG Interfaith Reports.)

Brigid's Grove: Blogger Molly's June 15 post, "Prayer for Sacred Pauses," is a short but deep prayer to "Goddess of the sacred pause."

Hearth Moon Rising: Scroll down to bottom of page for links to blog posts including: April 21 post, "Visions of the Cat," an excerpt about a vision quest from Hearth Moon's book, Divining with Animal Guides, and the April 16 post, "Event Chart for the Notre Dame Fire," an astrological look at the recent destructive fire at the Paris cathedral along with some of the cathedral's history.

Shakti Warrior: The subject of the June 1 post in this blog, "Arnemetia," is introduced by Shakti Warrior as "a Romano-Celtic water goddess."

Veleda: Max Dashu's blog now seems to be leaving off the dates of the posts (at least I couldn't see any ;-). In any case, because the policy of Medusa Coils is to post details only of blogs that show dates with their posts (actually I believe this is part of the definition of "blog"), and because Veleda's posts have usually been dated and because these are longish, well-detailed and extremely well-illustrated, and because I guess these posts are recent, I will list the titles of what appears to be the newer posts, assuming reverse chronological order common to blogs: "The keebèt and women’s ceremony in the Chaco," "Pattern Recognition: Across Space and Time," "Serpent Goddess in the Tree," and "Furies and Witches."

Because of the large number and variety of bloggers and posts on the following blogs, we suggest you visit them and select the posts that interest you most. 

Pagan Square: This blog of many mostly-Pagan paths is sponsored by BBI Media and includes SageWoman blog posts.

Feminism and Religion: Many bloggers from various religions and paths.

The Motherhouse of the Goddess: Blog affiliated with Motherhouse Podcasts and Mystery School.
The Wild Hunt: Pagan, news-oriented blog that has grown from single blogger to many bloggers.


Tuesday, June 04, 2019

REVIEW: Correspondence by Joseph Campbell

 Correspondence, 1927-1987 by Joseph Campbell, edited by Evans Lansing Smith and Dennis Patrick Slattery,  New World Library, 2019, 419 pages.  
 This is the latest book in a series of collected works being published by New World Library in cooperation with the Joseph Campbell Foundation. At this writing, there are about 22 books listed in this collection. “Medusa Coils” has reviewed tw0 of these books previously: Goddesses and The Mythic Dimension. Correspondence, as the name implies, focuses not exclusively on Campbell’s other books, but rather on his correspondence with other people—some well known, others lesser known— about his and their work and sometimes about their personal lives, so it, in a way, becomes both  autobiography and biography. It provides an unusually personal view into the community of intelligentsia, both in and out of the university, particularly those who have a great interest in mythology. So I feel it will be of greatest interest to people today with similar interests rather than specifically those interested in Goddess—although like The Mythic Dimension, it includes this subject also.
The b&w pictures throughout the book are mostly of Campbell or Campbell and his correspondents. Most of the book’s chapters form a chronology of the development of Campbell’s approaches to mythology. The chapters, along with some of the people with whom Campbell corresponds in each chapter, are:

Chapter 1: “Wanderings— Paris to Pacific Grove, 1927-1939,” Angela Gregory (sculptor), John Steinbeck (novelist), Ed Ricketts (biologist).
Chapter 2: “Decade Mirabilis, The 1940s,” Roger Sherman Loomis (Celtic mythology scholar), Ananda K. Coomaraswamy (museum curator), Henry Morton Robinson (novelist and, with Campbell, author of A Skeleton Key To Finnegan’s Wake), Maud Oakes (artist, ethnologist, and writer specializing in Native American tribes).
Chapter 3: “The Banquet Years, The 1950s,” Margaret Mead (cultural anthropologist and author); Henry Corbin (philosopher, theologian, professor of Islamic Studies); Carl Jung, (founder of analytical psychology and explorer of archetypes); Stanley Edgar Hyman (literary critic and husband of author, Shirley Jackson).
Chapter 4: “The Masks of God, 1959-1968,” Alan Watts (author, philosopher, theologian and for 5 years, an Episcopal priest, who developed an interest in Buddhism, especially Zen, as well as other religions— in addition to their correspondence, Campbell’s 1974 introduction to Watts’ (d. 1973) TV series appears in this chapter.); Mircia Eliade (author and lecturer, especially on spiritual topics); John D. Rockefeller 3rd (exhibitor at The Asia Society in New York City); Ted R. Spivey (English professor and author with interest in archetypes, dreams and psychic development); Signe Gartrell , aka Lynn Gartrell Levins, (author with interest in dreams and psychic development); Barbara Morgan (photographer and artist best known for her pictures and portrayals of famous dancers); Henry A. Murray, M.D. (psychologist and professor at Harvard University, where he was also director of the university’s, Psychological Clinic) Swami Nikhilananda, speaker originally from India, and founder of the Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center in New York); Lewis Gannett (author); Larry Glen (reporter with interest in mythology); Joseph Chaiken (theater director, founder of The Open Theater in. New York; Herman Goetz (art historian who writes to Campbell of Hartmut Schmoke’s interpretation of the Song of Songs, “as an Ashtharot ritual dissected and disarranged because it had been too popular to be suppressed by the priests of Jehovah…”[Note: Ashtharot is transliterated elsewhere as Ashtoreth, Ashteret, Asherah and other spellings].
Chapter 5: “Political Matters – Thomas Mann to the Vietnam War, 1939-1970,” differs from other chapters in that it is devoted to a specific topic in multiple years, while the other chapters are devoted to enumerating individuals with whom Campbell corresponded in shorter time periods with specific years and contain multiple topics. The chapter starts with a full-page picture of Campbell from his 1954 passport photo. Among the people corresponding with Campbell discussed in Chapter 5 are (as you might guess from the title) Thomas Mann (novelist) who disagreed with Campbell’s political views although he previously had expressed admiration for Campbell’s work. Among other correspondents in this chapter are Arthur Miller (playwright), and Gary Snyder (environmental activist who combined Buddhist spirituality and nature in his poetry, essays, and lectures).
Chapter 6: “The Mythic Image, The 1970s,” opens with a description of the difference between Campbell’s approach to mythology, and those of other people famous for their approaches to mythology. It also notes in the material from several of Campbell’s correspondents – including that of the Herbert S. Bailey of Princeton University Press, which was, at that time the publisher of the book – Campbell’s receipt in 1977 of an honorary doctorate from Pratt Institute, and includes Campbell’s address to the Pratt Institute graduating class the day he received the award. It also includes 20 of the endorsements from writers and scholars, etc., encouraging Pratt to give Campbell the award. A number of the other notes and letters to and from Campbell and his correspondence relate to the editing and publishing of this book.
Chapter 7: “The Last Decade, The 1980s” includes a discussion that may be of particular interest to readers of this blog: the material published after Campbell’s death in the book, In All Her Names: Explorations of the Feminine in Divinity (HarperSanFrancisco, 1991), which Campbell edited along with Charles Musès, and in which Campbell discusses “the Mystery Number of the Goddess," and refers to Marija Gimbutas’ work. It includes correspondence from Einar Pálsson, a mythologist known mostly for his work related to Iceland. In letters to Campbell, Einar connects the mythology of “Fryr/Freyja” to that of “Osiris/Isis” as well as the relationship of elements (such as fire and water) to shapes and numbers. Also included in this chapter is correspondence between Campbell and Jamake Highwater (journalist and author of more than 30 books of fiction including some for children, art, poetry, and history), and Phil Cousineau (author, lecturer, filmmaker, whose work includes mythology).

The chapters of the book end with a “Coda,” of “Testimonials and Condolences” mostly to Campbell’s wife, Jean, after Joseph’s death from cancer in 1987.

Other information and comments by Campbell and other people about Jean appear throughout the book.
The front matter includes: The poem, “Correspondences” by Charles Baudelaire; “About the Collective Works of Joseph Campbell” by the editors; Foreword by Dennis Patrick Slattery, PhD; Introduction by Evans Lansing Smith PhD; Notes on the Text; Overture by Robert Walter.

The back matter includes: An appendix: “The Works of Joseph Campbell, (a list with pictures of 31 books and their relationship to the chapters in this book); “Notes,” (about the front matter and chapters); “Works Cited (alphabetically by author);” “Permission Acknowlegments,” with related page numbers; Index, including indication of subjects that are illustrated; and “About the Joseph Campbell Foundation.”

Yes, this is quite a thorough book and is likely to be especially valuable to students, scholars, and others with interest in Campbell and related subjects

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