Women Versed in Myth

Essays on Modern Poets

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About the Book

Throughout history, men have prayed to gods and poets have interpreted ancient myths for new audiences. But what about women? With sections on teaching and modern writing, this collection of new essays examines how modern female poets—including H.D., Louise Glück, Ruth Fainlight, Rita Dove, Sylvia Plath and others—have subverted classical expectations in interpreting such legends as Persephone, Helen and Eurydice. Other mythological figures are also explored and rewritten, including Buddhism’s Kwan Yin, Celtic Macha, the Aztecs’ Coatlicue, Pele of Hawaii, India’s Sita, Sumer’s Inanna, Yemonja of the Yoruba and many more.

About the Author(s)

Colleen S. Harris serves as a librarian on the faculty of California State University Channel Islands. A three-time Pushcart Prize nominee for her fiction and poetry, she is the author of three poetry collections and lives in Camarillo, California.

Valerie Estelle Frankel teaches English at Mission College and San Jose City College. The author of 60 popular culture books and more than 100 stories and essays, she lives in Sunnyvale, California.

Bibliographic Details

Edited by Colleen S. Harris and Valerie Estelle Frankel

Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 248
Bibliographic Info: notes, bibliographies, index
Copyright Date: 2016
pISBN: 978-0-7864-7192-8
eISBN: 978-1-4766-2608-6
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

Part I: Classical Myth Subverted

Sap Rising: Bodies Figured as Trees in H.D., Atwood and Glück (Wendy ­Whelan-Stewart) 5

Mythotropism: A Psychology of Writing (to) Myth (Coco Owen) 14

Burying Helen: H.D.’s Anthropoetics (Lisa D. Simon) 25

The Needed Underworld: Modern Reactions to Symbolic Death (Rachel McCoppin) 34

From Persephone’s Lips: Three Retellings by Louise Glück (Valerie Estelle Frankel) 43

Reimagining Myth and the Maternal with Ruth Fainlight, Margaret Atwood and Katie Donovan (Charlotte Beyer) 50

“Out of the Ash I Rise”: Sylvia Plath and the Rebirth of the Woman Poet (Kate Williams) 59


Part II: Outside the Greek Tradition—From the Near East to the Aztecs


Coatlicue and Chicana Grrl Power (Sarah R. Wakefield) 67

Conduits and Conjurers: Heroic Characters, Sacred Nature and Social Order in Kelly Norman Ellis, Nikky Finney and Patricia Smith (Janine Harrison) 73

When Pele Blows: Trask’s Repositioning of the Hawaiian Creation Epic (James A. Wren) 83

Mythic Reenactment from Sandra Alcosser and Pattiann Rogers (Tami Haaland) 91

Utilizing and Disrupting Legends in Indian Poetry (Pramila Venkateswaran) 97

The Mything Link: The Feminine Voice in the Shifting Australian National Myth (Phil Fitzsimmons) 106

Sister of Life, Sister of Death: Fluid Roles in Catherynne M. Valente’s The Descent of Inanna (Valerie Estelle Frankel) 114

Part III: Within the Classroom


Female Icons in Popular Culture: A Semiotic Approach to Teaching (Elizabeth Johnston) 121

La Llorona and La Malinche in ­Re-Vision: Chicana Poets Countering Traditions and Claiming Voice (Leigh C. Johnson) 140

Ancient Voices: Bringing the Greeks to Life for Students K–12 (Kate Hovey) 148

Taking Pomegranates from Strangers: Contemporary Female Poets on Persephone (Sarah R. Wakefield) 160


Part IV: Ancestry, the Personal and ­Self-Writing Women


Family Lore, Suffragist Ancestors and the Scrapbook of a 19th Century Poetess; or, How to Find a Topic for the Dissertation (Laura Madeline Wiseman) 169

Creating Light: ­Myth-making of Lucille Clifton (Glenis Redmond) 179

Penelope at the Loom: Mythology and the Modern Workplace in the Poetry of ­21st Century Women (Kristin ­Berkey-Abbott) 187

In My Own Image: Crafting Poetry About the Sacred Feminine (Paula J. Vaughan) 194

Telling a Truth versus Telling the Truth: On Writing from Personal History (Jenny ­Sadre-Orafai) 203

They’re Not Mermaids, Really: Shame and ­Re-visioning the Mermaid Mythos (Jennifer Jean) 209

Calling the Goddess (Janine Canan) 218


About the Contributors 229

Index 233