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My Turn
by Feral

Imbolc 2003, Vol 2-2
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MatriFocus, a Cross-Quarterly Web Zine for Goddess Women Near & Far
Pat Monaghan, photo from her website used with permissionBard at Work: Patricia Monaghan

Ten years after the first edition, Llewellyn has released a greatly expanded second edition of Seasons of the Witch: Poetry and Songs to the Goddess, by Chicago writer and teacher Patricia Monaghan. Where once there were 13 poems per season, echoing the 13 moons of the year, now each season is represented by 28 poems, one for each day of the lunar month. The book's structure is as detailed, layered, and full of meaning as an astrology chart.

In the first edition, Monaghan focused on the Greek goddesses. Hera, in particular, moved through the seasons. She remains a powerful presence in the new edition. At the end of Hera Renews Her Youth, she speaks:

Here I stand, pomegranate
in hand, ripe as a bud but old, old
as rock, unshakeable now, a power
essentially female and free. Hold
my ripe breasts. I'll be gone in an hour.

In the second edition, Monaghan added goddesses from her own Celtic tradition -- Finola, Nimue, Fand, Dierdre, Sheila-na-Gig, and Maeve. In Maeve Prepares for Beltane, the Celtic goddess speaks:

Before anyone loves me
I must love myself
My briar patch
My secret rose
My fierce heart. …

Each element has a wild and moving chant. Litany for Fire begins:

Ash, apple, elder,
  Bonfire, bonefire,
  Birch, beech and banyan,
  Death pyre, needfire,
  Cherry and cedar,
  Wildfire, balefire,
  Devilwood, dragontree,
  Greenfire, seedfire. …

Each season has a procedure from The Goddess Instruction Manual. Part 1: How to Think like Athena, begins,

  1. Remove shoes.
Stand on earth.

and concludes,

  9. The mind is the body.
Think everywhere at once.

You may read this book from beginning to end, open it at random (as random as the I Ching), or spiral through it following a Goddess, a story, a form. Or you may ignore its structure entirely, and still you'll take satisfaction from it.

What's true for the book holds true for each poem. Monaghan knows the technical craft of poetry and enjoys obeying the rules for sonnet (Strength), aubade (Aubade for Aurora: Her Lover Sings to the Dawn Goddess), villanelle (A Vision of Hunger in Flesh). If verse forms interest you, you'll recognize them. If not, you won’t be troubled by lines that bump and strain to follow poetic rules. You'll ignore the structure and enjoy the poet's wit, sense, and sensuality.

In fact, this book makes poetic craft look easy, though like many crafts, it's easy to do badly and very difficult to do very well.

The first-edition poems have been showing up in pagan rituals for the past decade, and the many new pieces in the second edition will be equally welcome. They work well on the page, but they sound even better, spoken or sung. (A CD enclosed with the book has musical versions -- some of them beautiful -- of 24 of the poems.)

Monaghan's words span communities. Her poetry deals more with goddess than god, yet "the goddess is not always alone or with other women," she says in the preface. In December she came to Madison for a reading, and to an audience made up largely of lesbians and Dianics she read a poem about ecstacy, The Maenad Remembers Dionysus:

… There will be one time
that is the last time and I will not
know it. I will not know it until later. …

The piece evoked the beauty of that male god, and the women applauded. After the poetry reading, it occurred to me that Patricia Monaghan is one of our true bards. As poet, teacher, and witch, she travels among the pagan communities of North America and Ireland and beyond those communities. She belongs to all of us and to none of us -- not bound by the narrower definitions of this group or that.

The old Celtic root of the word bard was to speak; and its newer, English-influenced meaning, an enclosed pasture land. Perfect word for Monaghan the poet: she speaks freely, both acknowledging the enclosure of verse form and treating it as a gate to realms that cannot be fenced.

Graphics Credits
+ Patricia Monaghan, Photo used with permission, www.patricia-monaghan.com (see the "works" page for information about ordering Seasons of the Witch).

Contributors retain the copyright to their work; please do not take art or words without permission. All other graphics and reference materials are used and attributed as per the Fair Use Provision of The Copyright Act and individual terms of use.
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