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Lupa and Lamb, by Susan Hawthorne.

August 11, 2014

Lupa and Lamb, by Susan Hawthorne.  Spinifex Press (2014), Paperback, 172 pages.


A swirling celebration, told in free verse, of ancient goddesses and strong women from myth and history meeting, exploring, talking and loving.

Susan Hawthorne’s new book of poetry takes readers into an speculative world where women are central.  The poems are structured around the premise of a gathering of women in Rome, invited by the Roman Empress and guided around the city and countryside by the Curatix, Director of the Musaeum Matricum. Those who arrive first explore the vast archives of the museum and ancient documents by and about women/goddesses and visit the ancient ruins of Sardinia. Then the party begins. As more and more guests from various countries and centuries arrive, they talk and sing and act just like women at a contemporary gathering. Pain and anger may surface occasionally, but this is joyous book, not a diatribe against patriarchy. How I would like to be part of such a group.

The prologue of the book is a passage by Monique Wittig asking women to remember a time when they were strong and happy, and if they cannot remember to invent such a time.  Lupa and Lamb is just such a history and an invention.  I particularly liked how Hawthorne makes no distinction between what scholars accept as “true” and the glorious products of her imagination.  I believe this approach is probably the best method for knowing goddesses, women saints, and other fore-mothers. Those who try to “prove” that such figures “really” lived get blogged down in rigid, defensive prose. Rather than trying to fit goddesses into the constraints of academia, Hawthorne uses them as a jumping off point for our inspiration. We can be grateful that their stories have survived even if material evidence about them is sparse. And we can use them to inspire us to create our own stories.

Hawthorne is the Director of Spinifex Press, and she has the rare breadth of knowledge necessary to write such a wide-ranging book.  In addition to studying Political Science, Philosophy, and Women’s Studies, she has learned Latin, Greek, and Sanskrit and after living in Rome for six months, she also has some knowledge of Italian.  These are the cultures and languages that she explores and integrates.  (One can hardly ask for more, but I wished for some African or Indigenous characters.)  Exploring the history of particular words, she treats them like toys to be tossed in the air and discovered in unexpected, sometimes amusing places.  She tells us, for example, that lupa has had two meanings; prostitute and she-wolf, and then goes on to use both meanings in her poems.

Reading Lupa and Lamb, I kept remembering other of my favorite feminist speculations, such as Finola Moorhead’s Remember the Tarantella, and the books by American Mary Daly, who played a major role in changing the way I approach the world.  Hawthorne’s words have the same earth-shaking power. Her poems are presented with no punctuation and little capitalization. The words are arranged almost like research notes, but flowing with beauty and wisdom.  Lines between women and goddesses from a variety of cultures blur into each other as the women talk.  Individual women/goddesses take different names and forms, which would be a problem if the book was driven by its plot. Instead, symbols and images, often of wolves and lambs and womanhood, connect the stories.

I used to say that I seldom read and liked poetry, but Susan Hawthorne and Spinifex Press are changing that. Since I am ill equipped to write about poetry, I’d like to include one of my favorite poems from this book, one that for me summarize what Hawthrone does in Lupa and Lamb. (Sorry I can’t reproduce her spacing.)


those who came after us

unraveled our stories

wiped the slate clean

smashed the pots

leaving only fragments


so we kept silent

we avoided the high arts

the public world

the official histories


craft saved us

we spun and sewed

wove patterns on fabric

cooked and healed

drew on pots

sang and told old wives’ tales

to our daughters

we were ignored

we were inventive

we laughed

Lupa and Lambs is a book that I enthusiastically recommend to readers open to feminism and creative exploration of words and ideas from a feminist viewpoint.

Thanks to Spinifex for sending me this delightful book to review.

See my review of Hawthorne’s “novel in verse,” Lumen.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. August 11, 2014 6:48 pm

    Dear Marilyn

    Thank you for your wonderful review of Lupa and Lamb. It’s great to know when a reader gets it!!

    There are a few typos in the review that you might want to fix. The most important are: You sometimes call it Lupa and Lamb/sometimes Lupa and Lambs ­ the first is correct ­no s I think near the end you have used the name Hamilton for me instead of Hawthorne My previous book is called Limen not Lumin 3rd para line 1, you say I have a breath of knowledge ­ should be breadth

    I read it out loud, otherwise I might have missed some of these.

    I hope you can correct them. Many thanks Susan

    From: Zohl de Ishtar Reply-To: “Me, you, and books” Date: martedì 12 agosto 2014 01.19 To: Susan Hawthorne Subject: [New post] Lupa and Lamb, by Susan Hawthorne. mdbrady posted: “Lupa and Lamb, by Susan Hawthorne. Spinifex Press (2014), Paperback, 172 pages. AUSTRALIAN WOMEN WRITERS A swirling celebration, told in free verse, of ancient goddesses and strong women from myth and history meeting, exploring, talking and lovin”

    • August 12, 2014 10:59 am

      I am glad you liked the review overall. And thanks for being patient with my typos. I apologize. Even reading aloud and asking others for help, I just don’t seem to be able to keep them them from happening. My dyslexia worsens as I age, but I can’t stop my reading and writing.

      And thanks for this great book. Keep up the good work.

  2. August 27, 2014 3:00 am

    You wrote: (One can hardly ask for more, but I wished for some African or Indigenous characters.)

    They are there – the Indigenous women are the desert women who teach the women around Sappho to dance (they appear in several places). As it’s mainly a book about Europe they appear only towards the end at the party. There are several others there too. There are some North African women including Saint Saba (Queen of Sheba), Perpetua and Dido from Carthage; and the poems future unbuilt and friendship among women also go a bit further afield.

    It’s so hard to proof anything you have written. I was lucky to have several alert readers for LAL.

    Thanks for all the amazing books you review.

    • September 4, 2014 12:09 pm

      Thanks for pointing those out. There was so much I simply missed them. In fairness, I can’t imagine any one woman being more inclusive of difference in one book than you are. Maybe it would take a collaboration of women with different local knowledges which would be impossible in other ways.

      Yes, the books I read and review are amazing. I wish that more people were reading them or that I could better articulate why I believe them to be so important.

      My copy of Bibliodiversity just arrived. I’ve only read a few pages, and as you might expect, I love it. Keep up your good work.


  3. December 14, 2014 1:19 am

    Reblogged this on eachone and commented:
    I’m alive again!

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