Reviewed by Mary Saracino
Susan Hawthorne's newest book, Lupa and Lamb, is a bold, provocative—dare I say, transcendent—collection of poems, plays, and 'lost texts' that reclaims the buried mysteries of ancient sites in Rome, Sardinia Malta, Etruria, and Sicily—all with an unapologetic female, feminist sensibility.
Lupa and Lamb is steeped in the language of women's culture, women's cellular knowing. Hawthorne excavates subaltern memory and eviscerates the imposed collective amnesia that has too long silenced the voices (and the reality) of women.
The poems are unflinching, provocative, beautifully crafted.
Like Olga Broumas' groundbreaking book, Beginning with O, Hawthorne's Lupa and Lamb creates a powerful and profound world—one that is both literary and female.
The book opens with a quote from Monique Wittig's The Guêrillères urging readers to remember that which has been silenced.
"There was a time when you were not a slave....you walked alone, full of laughter, you bathed bare-bellied. You say you have lost all recollection of it, remember....You say there are no words to describe this time, you say it does not exit. But remember. Make an effort to remember. Or, failing that, invent."
Wittig's quote initiates readers into the wild and magical ride that lies ahead, for Hawthorne's book is as much a celebration of women's culture and a reclamation of women's subaltern memories as it is a collection of finely wrought poems.
Hawthorne dedicates her book to "all the wolves, sheep and women killed in the name of progress."
Lupa and Lamb takes readers on a compelling metaphorical ride across time and space that is enchanting and exhilarating, ever more so because it is grounded in Hawthorne's deeply female sensibility and her in-depth knowledge of women's herstory from Paleolithic times to the present.
Hawthorne divides the book into three sections, Lupa, Lamb, and Lambda, and weaves together fragments of mythology, archaeology, and ancient languages. She creates a cast of characters to guide us: Curatrix, Director of the Musaeum Matricum and guardian of the 'lost texts'; Lupa/Ilia/Rhea Silvia/Acca Larentia, a woman and a she-wolf; Diana/Artemis/Artemisia, a goddess; Agnese/Santa Agnese/Saint Agnes, a Christian saint and martyr; Sulpicia, a Latin poet (63 BCE-14 CE); and Livia (58 BCE-29 CE), an Empress of Rome.
Lupa and Lamb unfolds in a series of poems, short plays, and shards of 'lost text'—each one deciphering a code of long-lost memory, silenced language (the language of women).
The first poem, "descent", sets the tone for what lies ahead:
that hollow sound of Cumaea
I was here before
thousands of years ago
your hundreds of mouths
words frothed at the edge
of my mouth
In "nuraghe", she writes about the memories and secrets held in ancient stone buildings in Sardinia:
Agnese and I wander
turn full circle
stare at the megalithic words
breasted baetyls and sickled menhirs
rocks piled in poetic structures
we walk hand in hand
between the lines
disappear behind the towering boulders
put our ears to the rocks
listen to the songs
In "Sabine women 720 BCE", she questions the version of history passed down through the ages that obliterates women's lived experience:
history is being rewritten
it's not rape it's abduction
says Wikipedia that anonymous
In "Palermo, Sicilia: inquisition", she echoes the horrors of the institutionalized murder of countless women branded as heretics:
death rides a skeletal horse
a woman's silent scream
arrow in her throat
In "Lesbos: aidos", she carries that institutionalized oppression into contemporary times, linking the hatred of women's bodies with female sexuality:
I want to tell you what happened
but how to put it into words
how can I say the words
when my body is the crime
In "tomb of the forgotten women", she writes about female resistance and the fate of so many who have resisted.
there is nothing here
we begin to sing
we chant the names
of some who tried
to end their enslavement
In "sibyls", she writes about taking charge, renouncing the silence, reclaiming that which has been lost:
Phemonoe the poet
says it is time to cease
the future is now
turned on itself
the known a memory
the knowable invented
our million mouths singing
Lupa and Lamb is a remarkable achievement from a gifted poet. Hawthorne's book is a gem and a 'must-read' for anyone interested in women's spiritual traditions, women's history, mythology, archeology, and archeomythology.
Lupa and Lamb is published by Spinifex Press, and can be obtained from their website.