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.



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Judith Laura

More blogs about /goddess/feminist theology/spiritual feminism/pagan/feminist spirituality/.