Showing posts with label san francisco. Show all posts
Showing posts with label san francisco. Show all posts

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Muse of Gay Poets

holy Sappho
make a place for me now
—Naomi Ruth Lowinsky

Hot Flame of Female Word

When I was invited to participate at the symposium, “Will You Marry Me?” on same sex marriage, my first thought was “why me, a straight woman?” And then, as though a window were flung open to a landscape full of fragrant trees and running brooks, I had an epiphany: I have been in love with gay poets as long as I can remember. They’ve been my kinfolk, my soul mates, my muses, my major influences. They’ve taught me how to be the poet I’ve become. I can’t imagine my writing life or my bookshelves without Sappho, Rumi, Whitman, H.D., Duncan, Ginsberg, Judy Grahn, Thom Gunn, Audre Lorde. They are my people. When did Mary Barnard’s tender translations of Sappho fall into my hands? (Sappho:A New Translation) I think I was in my 20s.

When did H.D.’s “poetry of the archetypal moment as it pierces personal mortal experience” (to quote my own essay) invade my psyche, never to let me go? I wrote that essay for the San Francisco Jung Institute Library Journal in 1997, but I had been possessed by H.D. for decades before. When I got serious about my own poetry I was told, in a dream, that H.D. was my grandmother. Here’s a poem written under her direct influence:

(after H.D.)

White Temple cut in gray rock
I have washed the stone floors
I have put the full blown
white peony
in amber glass
only Hecate knows the dark center

Through an arched window
blood red madrone stains the rocky slope
Snake is sacred here
also mongoose

I await you
daughter of Isis
lover of the blood lord
sister of the frenzied one

climb the stony mountain in your bare feet
bring me your mouth and young breasts
white cave is the place I have prepared for you
hot flame of female word
                          (published in red clay is talking)

That scene could be happening on Lesbos, back in the day of the tenth muse, Sappho, who, it is said, initiated young women in the arts of love as well as of poetry, music and dance. I cultivated an elaborate fantasy about Sappho and me, which became a chapter of The Sister From Below, “Sappho at Midlife.” In it I imagine that I was an initiate of Sappho’s when I was young, and that I return to her, at midlife, for her help in negotiating the archetypal change of menopause. I invoke her:


tell me, Sappho,
whose delicate fingers
wove the violets into your hair?
whose soft seashell ears burned
at your song?

and would you take her back
after the years
she forgot you

opened her body
to his song

would you come to the tip
of her tongue
to her image making

would you send for her
the very chariot
that carried the goddess
she of the doves
and the smile that is
evening star?

lady of lesbos
we gather
pieces of you
out of the mouths
of buried vases

I wish it were mine
to remember
how we danced
around the altar in full
our tender young women feet
crushing the grass

holy Sappho
make a place for me now
the moon is waning
we whom the tides
have released
long for a fragment
                             of you—
                 (published in The Sister from Below)

Sappho, it turns out, has been waiting to be invoked. She says:
I’ve been here all along, the old voice of female poetry…the ghost of the wholeness of women that’s been ripped into shreds. What woman has written straight out of her body, her feeling, since I did, until now, in your time? My voice is the passion of woman for woman, the passion for the goddess. Every woman needs to know this passion, whether she sleeps with women or with men.
Judy Grahn, whose big breath chant “She Who” opened my lung wings in the 1970s and sings in me still, writes that in Lesbos, in Sappho’s thiasos, we catch a glimpse of a world where “women were central to themselves,” a world where women had access to their ceremonial stories, their myths and their poetry. (The Highest Apple)

Clearly Lesbian poets were a vital element in the ferment and change of the Women’s Liberation Movement. Poets like Judy Grahn and Audre Lorde changed our consciousness in the 1960s and 70s when the Goddess was finding her way back into women’s psyches. Lorde’s invocation of her African Goddess Seboulisa in her great poem “125th St. and Dahomey” is “printed inside the back of my head,” to borrow Lorde’s words:

Seboulisa mother goddess with one breast
eaten away by worms of sorrow and loss
see me now
your severed daughter…
           (Collected Poems of Audre Lorde)

The evocation of the Eleusinian Mysteries by H.D., a generation earlier, orients my soul:

the dead
are no more dead,
the grain is gold,

and seed within;
the mysteries
are in the grass
and rain.”
          (H.D. Selected Poems)

Though H.D.’s analysis was with Freud, not Jung, she is, for me, the most Jungian of poets, “mythic, hermetic, alchemical and psychological in the deepest and wildest sense. Dip into the pages of her Collected Poems and you dip into the living myth.”
(San Francisco Jung Institute Library Journal V. 16 #3)

Merlin of the Deep Woods

But its not just women who love women who have shown me my way as a poet. There are many gay men among my influences. Foremost among them is Robert Duncan, my Merlin of the deep woods, a magician, seer, wise man, prophet. Duncan loved H. D. and joined her in the quest to bring myth into every day consciousness. Duncan is profoundly psychological:
The Master of Rime told me, You must learn to lose heart. I have darkened this way and you yourself have darkened. Are you so blind you cant see what you cant see?
(”Structure of Rime XX, Selected Poems)
Duncan’s essay, “The Truth and Life of Myth,” in my well worn copy of his Fictive Certainties, is full of underlining and highlighting. He expresses my experience of the creative process eloquently:
Wherever life is true to what mythologically we know life to be, it becomes full of awe, awe-full…
The surety of the myth for the poet has such force that it operates as a primary reality in itself, having volition. The mythic content comes to us, commanding the design of the poem; it calls the poet into action, and with whatever lore and craft he has prepared himself for that call, he must answer to give body in the poem to the formative will.
(Fictive Certainties)

Ginsberg’s Howl called me with its mythic power when I was a teenager; it sent me prowling around Telegraph Avenue in black stockings, yearning to be a beat poet.

Thom Gunn, who was my professor at Berkeley when I was an undergraduate, newly married, lost to myself and morning sick, has my eternal thanks for praising my writing in an essay on Mother Courage. He gave me courage for my future.

Sappho’s Bride

These poets suffered the homophobic hostility and prejudice of their times. Though the ancient Greeks had very different ideas than we do about sexuality—considering same sex love quite natural—Sappho suffered the loss of her beloved ones who’d go off to be the bride of some man. In recent days our gay poets have had to hide their true desire in the closet, to disguise their forbidden love in heterosexual garments. Those who dared speak their truth, as Robert Duncan did in his 1944 essay. “The Homosexual in Society,” in which he came out publicly, have had their poems yanked out of promised publications. Duncan’s poem “African Elegy” had been accepted by the Kenyon Review, until its editor, John Crowe Ransom, got wind of Duncan’s sexual orientation. I know all this from Thom Gunn’s wonderful essay on Duncan, “Homosexuality in Robert Duncan’s Poetry” (The Occasions of Poetry). Thirty years later Audre Lorde, who had had her poetry collection, From a Land Where Other People Live, accepted by Broadside Press, a prestigious black press, in 1973, was asked by the editor, Dudley Randall, about the gender of the speaker in her “Love Poem.” Her biographer, Alexis de Veaux writes, “When she responded that she was expressing love for a woman, Randall asked her to delete this poem from the work. Ultimately, Lorde acquiesced, sacrificing 'Love Poem' for the prospect of another published book.” (Warrior Poet, 130-131) But Lorde got her revenge. She came out at a reading in 1973 attended by many women, including her close friend Adrienne Rich, by doing a dramatic reading of her “Love Poem.” The poem was published in all its erotic glory in Ms. Magazine in 1974! (Warrior Poet, 139)

An Invitation

I will be reading Lorde’s poem among others at the forthcoming symposium, “Will You Marry Me?” My presentation, “Sappho’s Bride: The Beloved in Same Sex Poems” will be a bouquet of love poems from my literary lineage. I’ll read in the interludes between talks. Christine Downing is our wonderful featured guest speaker, “Querying Marriage / Queering Marriage.” The other Institute member analysts who will speak are John Beebe, QiRe Ching, Carol McRae, Steven Nouriani, and Scott Wirth.

Please join us.

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Muse of Community

The Muse of Community must have chosen the little fishing village of San Pancho as her favorite creative project. “Let’s see what would happen,” says she, “if we throw together an ‘olla podrida’ —a spicy stew— of interesting people in a tiny fishing village on the West coast of Mexico. Take a handful of artists, hippies, environmentalists, a bunch of retired folk and snow birds from the U.S. and Canada, some young families from South America, four solid local families with deep roots in the land, a love affair between an American woman and the daughter of one of the local families who is related to everyone, throw in one young American mother with a gift for creating community. Stir.”

This is a recipe for an amazing community. Dan and I have been coming to San Pancho, whose official name is San Francisco, in Nayarit, Mexico, for ten years.

We have had the joy of watching the town transform and of feeling, for our brief winter sojourn, part of the excitement and the pleasure. Community is fostered by our hosts at Casa Obelisco, the small B & B we frequent. We have been hearing San Pancho stories from Barb and Bill, John and Judy every morning over delicious breakfasts. We heard the story about the lovers, Gloria and Trini, who opened a great Mexican restaurant, Ola Rica, with a shrine to Frida Kahlo by the table Dan and I consider ours.

Trini and Gloria
In recent years Gloria and Trini have added a beach restaurant, La Playa, where you can indulge in the best Mango Margarita known to human kind. We’ve heard about Turtle Frank, who has created a hatchery to protect the vulnerable turtle eggs and help the hatchlings find their way to the sea. Sometimes we’ve been lucky enough to be part of this event on the beach. We are drawn into community with other guests and into the vibrant life of the town. Of course we also hear about the feuds, the bad blood, the struggles over ownership of land and bad feeling over disappointments and betrayals. But there is a remarkable sense of possibility in this town that we don’t experience back home in the U.S. of A these days.

Nicole and Naomi
Many of these stories are about that young American mother, Nicole, who came here with her eleven month old son ten years ago, had another child, a daughter, got divorced, and found herself wondering about community. Bill, one of our hosts, who is very involved in Nicole’s organization, Entre Amigos, arranged for me to spend time with Nicole and hear her story.

She told me that when she came to San Pancho it was very small. She suspected it would grow, but was concerned about the lack of connection between the local people and their visitors. There was distrust between the two groups. She could feel people withdrawing behind their walls. The Muse must have come to her and whispered:” All you need is a little bridge.”

Dan and I remember the small store front she had when she began Entre Amigos, offering after school programs for kids. Nicole put it this way: “I just put my kitchen table out on the street and began teaching what I learned in Girl Scouts—sewing, cooking, gardening. I asked others to teach—the locals, foreigners. Everyone has something to teach. Everyone has something to learn, from tamale making to computer skills. It’s a walk of faith,” she told me. “It’s all about mutual giving.”

“Entre Amigos” has grown dramatically since those early years. It is now housed in what was the ruin of a fruit drying factory. It is made entirely of recyclable materials. I asked her about her environmental work—recycling, tree planting. “Oh” she said, “that’s not me. That’s Endira.” Endira, a Chilean, came early to work with Nicole. Her passion is the environment. She created San Pancho’s recycling program, and created a marked for recycled products.

Toys like this get sold in the little shop at Entre Amigos. Endira has also created an environmental curriculum for children. Twenty lessons in a box which anyone can teach. You just “read the card and teach the class,” Nicole says. “Why teach kids who have never seen a glacier about melting glaciers? Why not teach them to pay attention, to observe and imagine the life of the birds and the butterflies they know in their own landscape?” Her curriculum has been picked up by Hawaiian educators and by biology students in Mexican colleges, who use it to fulfill their social service requirement by teaching it to school kids.

Nicole walked me around the large spacious building with its open floor plan and differentiated areas—the shop, the library and computer center, the separate area for kids under five where local moms meet foreign mom and their kids play together with an assortment of wonderful toys.

I watched a boy careen in through the front door on his skateboard, pick it up and head for the library. This was clearly his place. I watched boys on the floor playing happily with a wooden train set. I watched boys reading. “So many boys” I commented. “They all look happy.”

“That’s Jasmin” said Nicole, and told me about the local woman who is a magnet for troubled kids, kids who aren’t going to school, who live in horrific family situations, who are abused. “Jasmin wanted to tutor them here. So we set up a tutoring program.” She pointed out Ramon, a young man working with four boys between eight and ten years old. They all looked attentive and engaged. She told me these were boys who hadn’t been going to school, didn’t know how to read. Now they’re in school, and reading. They come after school to Entre Amigos. Ramon, she said, “used to work construction. When he came here it was clear he was very bright, and a good teacher. We said, ‘Ramon, what are you going to do next?’ He has decided to go to college.”

Nicole pointed out a boy who is regularly abused at home. “There’s no Child Protective Services here in Mexico,” she told me. “He comes here. Of course, he’s difficult. He hits other kids. So we consulted with a retired psychologist from Canada about how to handle him. He helped us develop a system to empower the kids to run the building. They have to do social service—water the plants for example. Kids are in charge of the rules. If they do well they get a reward—a trip or a movie. Most of them haven’t been anywhere. Going to the movies is a special treat.”

Nicole is eloquent on a subject close to my heart—how essential creativity is to learning and teaching. She hopes these kids, who may not ever get to college, will learn to think outside the box, learn that all kinds of things are possible, because they have been exposed to so many different creative approaches, classes on everything from English/Spanish to screen printing and art making. She highly values creative expression. “There’s that moment when you see their eyes open to a bigger world. It’s amazing.”

Our friend Bill has been involved with the scholarship program at Entre Amigos, which invites folks to sponsor a child. In Mexico the schools have no money for supplies—books, paper, pencils, even toilet paper. So they charge parents fees. This is a hardship for poor families, as is buying school uniforms. For $600 a year you can sponsor a child, take the financial load off a family, assure that a child can remain in school, and support Entre Amigos.

At breakfast I learned that all of our fellow guests at Casa Obelisco, including the guy who swears by Fox News, had committed to sponsoring a child. Community seems to grow organically around Entre Amigos

But friends, I haven’t even told you the half of it. The Muse of Community has thrown some wild ingredients into the San Pancho ‘olla podrida.’ She has thrown in Cirque du Soleil, which, for reasons I couldn’t quite follow has decided to teach circus skills like acrobatics to the children of San Pancho, and is partnering with Entre Amigos. Nicole showed me the circus room, with its Olympic quality trampolines and equipment. I’d wondered where all the girls were. They were here, a few boys among them, in bright leotards, excited and adorable, training for a big children’s circus to be held on March 23rd.

The Muse has also thrown in some wandering muralists, who have covered several walls with colorful, often surreal imagery.

The Muse has thrown in Manny and Joe, who are music producers from Seattle, now mostly retired. They organize events around town, including a fabulous fundraiser Dan and I attended at the golf course, which for years, was off limits to everyone but the owner. He’s had a change of heart and allowed a big party to happen in his clubhouse at the top of the world, with views of ocean, jungle, mountains.

In the magical way that communities come together in San Pancho, “suits” and “creatives” gathered (though of course no one is ever seen wearing a suit in San Pancho unless he’s the groom or the father of the bride at the wedding). Entre Amigos, we learned, is in an alliance with a group called Les Fabricas des San Pancho to turn the old shells of factories into green buildings that will house workshops for artists and space for environmental groups. A group of architectural students at Mexican universities has agreed to help. We were there to raise funds for their bus fare to San Pancho.

Dan and I sat among the well heeled and the wildly creative, drinking wine, eating fajitas, and listening to the fabulous jazz of Bandieros de los All Stars. They were led by a small intense flautist who doubled as a Sax player. The bass guitarist was wild, experimental. We could be in New Orleans. The flute played the sun down—long holy sound of human breath.

The last and wildest ingredient so far the Muse of Community has thrown into the stew is, believe it or not, the Dalai Lama. Nicole has just received an award from him in San Francisco del Norte, on Feb. 23rd. Nicole is one of a group of “Unsung Heroes of Compassion” [link:] whom the Dalai Lama chose to honor.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Sea Turtle Muse

These days I find myself careening between despair for our earth and wild hope. We have experienced so many signs of our deteriorating climate: storms, fires, melting glaciers, rising seas. We have experienced so many signs of the harm we humans do—the Gulf Oil Spill was just over 2 years ago.

And yet, I also see so many signs of rising consciousness about the danger we are in, of growing awareness that we humans are part of a vast web of life—totally dependent on the well being of all creatures and plants. Many of us, including our president, are talking about the environmental crisis we are in; some of us are writing poetry about it.

My friend Leah Shelleda’s powerful anthology, The Book of Now, is an often elegiac expression of our concerns. As she writes: “the waters are rising and the animals are dying." Shelleda included my poem, “Invoking Patiann Rogers During the Oil Spill,” which speaks to those fears, that grief. Patiann Rogers is a fine nature poet with an “Audubon eye” for the creatures she describes. Here is the poem.

                      I thank the distinct edges
Of the six‑spined spider crab for their peculiarities
And praise the freshwater eel for its graces.

                                   —Patiann Rogers

If I knew as much science as you, Patiann
the migratory patterns, mating rituals, feeding behavior
of all those creatures engulfed in sludge
would be in this poem. Would that help
those whose feathers are encrusted in crude
those whose webbed feet can’t swim
those with gaping mouths—dead on the beach?

If I had your Audubon eye—to describe how the least tern
sits on her eggs, how the pelican makes her nest—
could we protect their hatchlings? Could we rescue
the oil clogged sea turtle, the laughing gull
the meandering crab dodging balls of tar, with poems?

Me? I get visions, and their unbearable
music—there’s a dragon fly with oil
weighted wings, there’s a blackened egret…
This is a dirge for the blue fin tuna —
They’ve lost their spawning grounds
in an ocean gone mad with black blood

If we could create an amulet, Patiann
of feather and fin, of marsh grass and mystical measures
of dolphin song, could we bring back the deep sea roe

or are we washed up too
in the Gulf
between how we are all connected—pelicans, poets, blue fin tuna—
                                                and what has become of our world?

We read of the valiant work of volunteers trying to rescue creatures—least tern, sea turtle, laughing gull—“engulfed in sludge…encrusted in crude” and worried that they, and we, were “all washed up,” that neither human rescuers or poetry could bring back what we’ve lost.

In the little village on the Pacific side of Mexico, which Dan and I visit each winter, we are witness to a hopeful effort to protect creatures. San Pancho is devoted to sea turtles. For years “Turtle Frank” and his group of volunteers have raised consciousness about the endangered status of these turtles, and developed methods to protect them. If you hang out long enough on the beach at sunset you are likely to take part in a miracle. Dan and I did.

We were sitting at our favorite beach café, La Playa, as the sun began its descent and the crows and egrets began their fluttering ascent into the palms above us. Suddenly we saw a crowd gather at the water’s edge. 

Turtle Frank and his volunteers were releasing 57 Leatherback turtle hatchlings into the sea. They had protected the eggs, kept them from human and bird predators, and now Turtle Frank was raking the sand to smooth the passage of these tiny beings, protected from harm by a crowd of humans and their children. Some of the baby turtles toppled over on their back. Little children lovingly turned them right side up, pointed them toward the sea.

Meanwhile the beach dogs wandered and the lovers held hands. At La Playa folks were drinking Mango Margaritas and eating guacamole. The sun turned deep orange. The sea turned purple. A couple silhouetted in the fading light kissed. The sun fell into the sea, and cast its purple, pink and deep orange on a fringe of small clouds above us. All 57 hatchlings had made it into the sea. We knew many of them would be food for the fish or the birds. We hoped some of them would survive to grow into those enormous turtles, whose evolutionary roots go back 100 million years, who grow big as an SUV, big as the mother who had laid her eggs one night in the very spot where she was hatched and wandered back into the sea.

Leatherback Sea Turtle preparing to leave eggs  

San Pancho sunset

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Publication of The Faust Woman Poems

The Sister from Below is delighted to announce
the publication of

The Faust Woman Poems 
by Naomi Ruth Lowinsky

The Faust Woman Poems, in good Jungian form, began with a dream.

I am a woman from another time and place, dressed in long skirts, a mauve shawl—a baby on my hip. I am me and not me—larger and older than my one small life. I arrive at the door of the Church at Chimayo—an old and magical church in New Mexico. A priest greets me and hands me an intricate brooch of Mary, carved in amethyst. He pins it at my throat.

Suddenly there is a violent transformation. I am not who I was, but it is unclear who I have become. A voice from the altar calls out “Faust Woman!”

Faust Woman? What was that supposed to mean? I had spend years reading, writing about and teaching Goethe’s Faust and its importance for Jungian psychology and our times. But why should Faust be a woman? And why should I— a Jew—be given the image of Mary to wear at my throat?

“Aha!” a voice inside me said: “you participated fully in that wild ride in the ‘60s and ‘70s—when you and your sisters liberated yourselves. And Mary is an ancient goddess who was stripped of her powers. Remember Jung’s excitement when the Assumption of Mary became dogma in the Catholic Church in the 1950s? He saw this as the return of the feminine to western consciousness.”

Well, that was all very interesting. But the interpretation by my inner voice was not sufficient. The dream kept tugging at me, wanting something else from me.

I wrote to my dear friend Alicia in Venezuela. She often can see what I can’t. “Oh” she wrote, “it’s simple. The brooch is at your throat chakra. You need to write about being a Faust Woman.” And so I did. Here is the poem that came to describe the dream:

The Dream

You arrive at the church in long skirts
mauve shawl the baby
on your hip

Light from the eyes
on the altar
touches your throat

Maria carved in amethyst
sing to us
sing to the wooden Santos

We have come to be
healed Reveal to us
your next incarnation
Look at you
in your red power suit
your pointed shoes
amulets tucked
between your breasts 
Changed woman
what have you done
with the baby? 
What will you do
with hot blood
hard currency
the smell
of new cars?
A voice from the altar calls you
Faust Woman

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Citizen’s Dilemma: An Invitation

Aloria Weaver's Axis Mundi

Are you a troubled citizen, suffering from election anxiety? Are you experiencing violent mood swings in response to the news of the day? Are you having trouble holding on to your center, to the spirit of the depths in these rancorous and polarized times?

The San Francisco C.G. Jung Institute is taking on this difficult historical moment with a one-day event— The Citizen’s Dilemma in Divisive Times.

I hope you will join us on Oct. 27th from 10-4 to hear:

Thomas Singer: The Presidential Elections 2012: Surfing the Emotions and Complexes of the Collective Psyche

Richard Stein: Love in the Time of Cacaphony: An Introvert’s Guide to Political Extremism

Naomi Ruth Lowinsky: Clinging to the Axis Mundi: The Poetry of Politics

Richard Tarnas: Cosmos, Psyche and Polis: An Archetypal Astrological Perspective on Our Time

The Institute is located at: 2040 Gough Street, San Francisco, CA 94109. Additional information about the Oct. 27th program can be obtained at or (415) 771-8055.

If you can’t make it in person, you can hear the event as a webinar, presented by the Asheville Jung Center

For a preview of a poem I’ll be reading and discussing, check out "When I'm Gone" on YouTube.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Muse of Politics

In this overwrought political season I have been musing about politics—what a devil it is, what a muse it is in my life and creative work. The power of the political to shape and destroy lives came into focus for me around two recent experiences: seeing the theater piece Party People at Ashland's Oregon Shakespeare Festival this summer and hearing an interview with Seth Rosenfeld, the journalist author of Subversives: The FBI’s War on Student Radicals and the Rise of Reagan.

Party People is a stunning piece of theater—a musical, multimedia drama using song, dance, hip hop, jazz, salsa, chant, rant, shouting, whispering, introspection, retrospection and video. In the beginning we meet two young creatives: Jimmy, engrossed in his Macbook Air is editing Malik’s video of former members of the Black Panthers and the Young Lords—a Puerto Rican nationalist organization. We see the video projected on the wall while in the stage area of this theatre-in-the-round actors portray the young revolutionaries with raised fists, slogans and guns. On video the former party members speak of the impossible conditions they were working to change—cockroach-infested apartments, terrible schools, hungry children, unavailable medical care. The Black Panthers provided free breakfasts to poor kids in Oakland. I remember this well—I had Panther kin. A close friend’s lover had been married to a Black Panther. They had two children—“Panther cubs.” My children played with them. I remember the pride with which their mother spoke of the breakfast program.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

An Invitation

Please join us in celebrating the publication of “Marked by Fire: Stories of the Jungian Way” event at the C. G. Jung Institute of San Francisco! This is a donor event. Anyone can become a donor. Your donation supports the Institute's work of the psyche, making it possible for people to have Jungian analysis through the low cost clinic, for candidates to be trained in analytical methods, for international students whose countries do not have Jung Institutes to study here, for public programs to be offered to the general population, including the programs of the Friends of the Institute and to ensure our international Jung Journal: Culture and Psyche continues to reach around the globe.

The Donor Event will be on Sunday afternoon, October 7, 2012, from 2-5 pm at the C. G. Jung Institute, 2040 Gough Street, San Francisco, CA 94109.

Three contributing analyst authors will read from their highly personal and unique stories: Karlyn Ward from Mill Valley, California; Chie Lee from West Los Angeles and Beverly Hills, and Jacqueline Gerson from Mexico City.

Chie Lee
Jacqueline Gerson
Karlyn Ward

Come join us and hear these powerful stories of three women from three countries whose lives were changed by the teachings of C. G. Jung.

For more information, contact Collin Eyre at 415-771-8055 extension 210 or e-mail Collin at to make a donation and reserve a seat at this exciting Donor Event.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Glowing Review on

Adagio and Lamentation, Naomi’s most recent collection of poems, published by Fisher King Press, received a glowing review by top reviewer, Grady Harp.

“ADAGIO & LAMENTATION, …the title bearing connotations of sorrow and 'music played slowly', by a rather extraordinary poet - one Naomi Ruth Lowinsky…. Lowinsky writes from the perspective of the scribe remaining to record the effects of the Shoah (Holocaust) on not only her ancestors but also on the minds and souls of people throughout the world scarred by that indelible tragedy. But Lowinsky seems to not find it necessary to recreate the horrors of that event but rather to assure us that it will not be forgotten, that transplantation of her surviving ancestors to the New World holds moments of joy and life made more rich by the presence of that devastation in their history.

“There are so many superb poems in this collection, some of them being the absolutely magical: 'at 19 before she became my mother Havana 1939', or 'on the anniversary of her first marriage', or 'what we did today in Venice'. Music and great literature and spirituality and physical passion pour out of these pages with a golden ladle. This is some of the finest, beautifully constructed poetry written today.”

Sunday, June 27, 2010

When the Moon Casts a Woman Off

article by Naomi Ruth Lowinsky

The moon and then
the Pleiades
go down

The night is now
half-gone; youth
goes; I am

in bed alone
—Sappho (1)

When the Moon Casts a Woman Off

The muse is erotic. This is well known to the men who adore her. For me, her erotic nature can show up unexpectedly, as it did in India, or as it did during that powerful transition in a woman’s life—menopause.

The Sister from Below: When the Muse Gets Her WayWhen the moon has cast a woman off, and she is running hot and cold in a confusion of purposes, body and soul fighting over the terms of their engagement, she may find herself lost, wandering about in a flat landscape, emptied of the drama of her cycles, unfamiliar to herself. When her soul, having lived in all the female places, isn’t sure where she lives anymore; when her mind loses track of itself and falls through the cracks in the floor of her brain; when her spirit is short of breath, confused by the weather, by sudden surges of heat that lack any erotic purpose; and her womb that has been telling time, keeping her in tune with the sea and its tides, goes silent, keeping its secrets inside; she may find herself thrown back to what called her before her first blood flowered, as though soul, mind, spirit, need to root themselves again in her beginnings; her life needs to come full circle. For me, that circle brings me back to a reverie about my early sexual stirrings, and a fantasy about Sappho.

Sappho. Have you heard of Sappho? She lived 2600 years ago, in a time when the division between the erotic and the sacred had not yet hardened, when a young woman’s education included the arts of love as well as of poetry, dance and music. How is it she suddenly fills me with her presence, as though I’ve always known her; as though I can remember my time with her as a young woman on Lesbos: the temple to Aphrodite, the meadows with flowers we maidens wove into one another’s hair; what we sang around the altar in the moonlight; as though Sappho was my teacher, my priestess, my wild older woman crush.

How can I claim to remember Sappho? She is a revered ancestor in my poetic lineage. But all we have of her poems are fragments, all we can gather of her life are glimpses, pottery shards, passages in Longinus and Demetrius. Yet even those fragments, those glimpses, give us a lot. They say she is a great lyric poet, perhaps the greatest of all time. They say that she, like Socrates, taught the young. The aristocrats of 5th century B.C. Greece, sent their daughters to Sappho, to her thiasos, where she initiated them into the mysteries of love; taught them ritual, poetry, dance, officiated at their weddings.

The Greeks did not divide sexuality up as do we. Young women learned love, their bodily and emotional responses, from other women. Some of them went on to marry men and live what we call heterosexual lives. Others stayed in the temple, as priestesses. Some, it is clear from Sappho’s work, preferred to stay with women.

As Judy Grahn points out in a powerful evocation of Sappho in her book of essays, The Highest Apple, Sappho was born into a now lost lineage of women poets that stretched behind her for a thousand years.(2) She lived in changing times. Already by her time, Greek women were oppressed and controlled by the patriarchy; they could not own property; they belonged to their husbands. But on Lesbos, in Sappho’s thiasos, we catch a glimpse of a world where, in Grahn’s words “women were central to themselves.” I long to have access to such wholeness of female being, such authority of voice and image.

I took my lyre and said:
Come now, my heavenly
tortoise shell: become
a speaking instrument(3)

Would I could be such a speaking instrument. Would I could summon such elegance and clarity. In Sappho female flesh becomes word. Her poems are personal, embodied, full of desire and of sensuous physical detail: descriptions of beautiful clothes, advise on what flowers a girl should wear in her hair. They are luminous.

H.D. brought Sapphic lucidity back into the language, describes Sappho’s poetry as: “containing fire and light and warmth, yet in its essence differing from all these, as if the brittle crescent-moon gave heat to us, or some splendid scintillating star turned warm suddenly in our hand like a jewel, sent by the beloved.”(4)

I wish I could study poetry with Sappho; learn to speak from female passion as did Sappho; I wish I could be on as intimate terms with Aphrodite, know the altar, know the ritual.

You know the place: then

Leave Crete and come to us
waiting where the grove is
pleasantest, by precincts

sacred to you; incense
smokes on the altar, cold

streams murmur through the
apple branches, a young

rose thicket shades the ground
and quivering leaves pour

down deep sleep; in meadows
where horses have grown sleek
among spring flowers, dill

scents the air. Queen! Cyprian!
Fill our gold cups with love
stirred into clear nectar(5)

But wait a minute. Is this the time to be invoking Aphrodite? At midlife, dealing with hot flashes and memory loss, struggling to keep track of many obligations, is this the time of life for Sappho to be stirring in me? Sappho who loved young women, sang of their beauty, taught them the erotic mysteries? Where was she when I needed her, when I had never heard of her, when I was a young woman, overcome by a confusion of passions?

I came of age in a time when it was believed that young women should be sexually initiated by men. The ancient practice of a woman learning the responses of her body in the hands of an older woman, had been mostly forgotten. There was an archetype missing (still is, for the most part), one the Greeks knew well: the archetype of sacred sexuality. In my day, a young woman’s passion was dangerous; if she expressed it, terrible things could happen to her. There were names: clinical names, colloquial names. Nymphomaniac. Slut. There were dangerous consequences. Pregnancies. Illegal abortions. Doors slammed for life. Shutters closed on her sense of self.

In the 1960s, some of us got wind of Sappho’s energy, without really knowing much about her. We saw that women had to learn to love women instead of only valuing our relationships with men. We formed circles of women and talked personally, about sex, our bodies, our passionate lives. In such a group, “consciousness raising” we called it, I remember wondering what menopause would be like. We asked an older woman some of us knew to write a letter about her experience. I can’t remember what she said. I do remember her tone, wise, funny, amazed and pleased to be asked. If I were to write such a letter now I’d have to say that nothing has prepared me for the power of change. It’s archetypal, like going through puberty, or becoming a mother.

And then it occurs to me: no wonder I’m fantasizing about Sappho. It’s not just that she’s a priestess of Aphrodite; she’s a priestess who facilitates archetypal change, and she does it in the voice of a woman-centered woman. As Judy Grahn says, when we lose access to our ceremonial stories “we fall out of history . . . out of mythic time . . . out of poetry except as the objects of it . . . out of meaning into a kind of slavery, a no-world, a no-place . . . ” How then can we make sense of female initiation, profound bodily changes? We need Sappho. We need her to teach us the lore of the body, the creative process, the invocation of the divine.

And I say to myself, why not try to invoke Sappho? What would it hurt? At worst she won’t come. At best, we’ll have an experience of the imagination.

The Tenth Muse

Imagine that we knew Sappho when we were young. Imagine that we can remember the island in the middle of the blue Aegean, near Turkey as it was 2600 years ago, a landscape of olive trees and apple orchards. The scholar of Greek lyric poetry, C.M. Bowra, describes it thus: “an abundance of natural springs fills the valleys with plane trees and lush grass; in the spring the ground is covered with anemones, orchids and wild tulips.”(6) The poet Alcaeus, a contemporary of Sappho, describes her as: “violet-tressed, holy, sweetly smiling Sappho . . .” (7)


tell me, Sappho,
whose delicate fingers
wove the violets into your hair?
whose soft seashell ears burned
at your song?

and would you take her back
after the years
she forgot you

opened her body
to his song

would you come to the tip
of her tongue
to her image making

would you send for her
the very chariot
that carried the goddess
she of the doves
and the smile that is
evening star?

lady of Lesbos
we gather
pieces of you
out of the mouths
of buried vases

i wish it were mine
to remember
how we danced
around the altar in full
our tender young women feet
crushing the grass

holy Sappho
make a place for me now
the moon is waning
we whom the tides
have released
long for a fragment
of you— (8)

She’s come. Can you see her? She is so vivid, as though she’s always been here, just under the surface, energetic, curious, intense, showing off her dark skin in bright clothing. She’s wearing the purple and yellow outfit she described in a poem. Listen to her beloved Atthis:

Sappho, if you will not get
up and let us look at you
I shall never love you again!

Get up, unleash your suppleness,
lift off your Chian nightdress
and, like a lily leaning into

a spring, bathe in the water.
Cleis is bringing your best
purple frock and the yellow

tunic down from the clothes chest;
you will have a cloak thrown over
you and flowers crowning your hair… (9)

She stands before a white temple, the blue Aegean glowing behind her. She’s smiling at us. Sappho, speak to us!

You wonder where I’ve been. I say, where have you been? I’ve been here all along, the old voice of female poetry, glad to be released at last from all those tiresome, bookish discussions about me. You’ve read all that nonsense. Was I short and dark? Did I die for love? Was I married to a man called Kerkylas, a wealthy merchant, or was this an obscene pun in an Attic comedy, because Kerkylas can mean “prick from the Isle of Man”(10) Was I a love priestess? Did I have jealous fights with my rivals for love or for power? Finally you stopped reading all that scholarship that just chops me up into smaller fragments, fits me into small categories that break up my wholeness. How can you separate body from love from soul from ritual from poetry? It is only in what’s left of my work that you can know me, and in the imagination of poets. There are those in your time who know me. H.D. knows me, as:

an island, a country, a continent, a planet, a world of emotion, differing entirely from any present day imaginable world of emotion…
A song, a spirit, a white star that moves across the heaven to mark the end of a world epoch or to presage some coming glory.
Yet she is embodied–terribly a human being, a woman, a personality as the most impersonal become when they confront their fellow beings.

Judy Grahn knows me, and traces her lesbian poetic lineage through H.D. and Emily Dickinson straight back to me. (11)

You can know me, not only as a particular poet of 6th c. B.C. Greece, but as the fragmented voice of woman, the ghost of the wholeness of woman that’s been ripped into shreds. What woman has written straight out of her body, her feeling, since I did, until now, in your time? My voice is the passion of woman for woman, the passion for the goddess. Every woman needs to know this passion, whether she sleeps with women or with men. Then she can express for herself what Freud found so mysterious: what a woman wants.

Why do you suppose you’ve been so consumed by poetry recently? It hasn’t occurred to you that I might have had something to do with that? For two millenia I was a sleepy spirit. But I’ve been right under the surface, waiting to be invoked. I have not been forgotten, but my poems, what has become of my poems? I wrote them down. I wanted them to last forever. It looked like they would. The Alexandrians published me a few centuries after my death. My work survived for a thousand years. I was known as the tenth muse, first among lyric poets, the queen of poetry. Once, everyone knew my poetry by heart. My words were ripe fruit on the tongue of every cultivated person. Now, all that’s left are fragments.

Don’t think because I’m a shade, I don’t mourn the loss of my work. Don’t think it doesn’t humiliate me, even in death, that my voice got torn to shreds of papyrus, that handwritten copies of my work were used to stuff a coffin, mummify a crocodile. Why did my books disappear? I have not been forgotten, but my poems are lost. I have not been forgotten, but for two thousand years who has written in my tradition? I have been quoted but the whole shape and luster of my work has been lost. Who has invoked me intimately, as I did Aphrodite, as you just did me? Why has it taken you so long? I’ve been knocking at the door of your consciousness most of your little life!

Dead poets long to be read. We long for our living audience, for the poets we influence, the poems that carry on our tradition, bring it into new territory. Suddenly your time is full of women poets, as though a fire swept through old woods releasing seeds that haven’t sprouted for 2600 years! You’re waking me up, exciting me, calling on me to return.

Now you want me to help you in this second rite of passage, in the Lesbos of your imagination. But I need your help. Events keep tearing you away from me. Important meetings. Conferences. Telephone calls. I say: come to Lesbos; make time for solitude; be alone with me. Imagine yourself in the grove of apple trees. The apples are reddening, growing ripe. The breeze in the trees has more to say to you than any group of colleagues. What do they know of your essence, your struggle to release your spirit from other people’s purposes? If I am to help you find the self you left behind, I need your full attention, your ear to my voice, your mind to the flow of images. Most of all I need your body!

You want my body?

No, I’m not propositioning you, not in the usual sense. I’m a ghost, a spirit. What I want is words for your body’s experience, your desire, your longing. When young women came to me on Lesbos I prepared them for the changing of the gods in their bodies. I called down Aphrodite. I taught them the pleasure of their bodies, what flowers to wear in their hair, what would make the blood run hot under their soft skin. Here they were, young and so lovely, breasts just blossoming. How could I not fall in love? I who was teaching them to cultivate the goddess of love, to make her incarnate in their own flesh, was cultivating my own body of love.

I brought girls from childhood to womanhood, teaching them to sing and to dance, to cultivate the subtle play of blood and fire in their loins, the connection to their feet, to know what colors to wear, how a dress should drape.

If I had known you when you were young, you would have known your own beauty. You would have learned to express your own passion, in words. No matter how overcome with passion a woman may be, if she can make a poem of her experience—she retains herself—has made a vessel for herself. I did this time and again.

He is a god in my eyes
the man who is allowed
to sit beside you—he
who listens intimately
to the sweet murmur of
your voice, the enticing
laughter that makes my own
heart beat fast… (12)

Can you imagine how it is to love a young woman, train her in the erotic arts, and then have to officiate at her marriage? Making poems held me together, as making poems has been holding you together in the change of life. What you need is some of our ancient Greek love for our bodies. We did not suffer from that post Christian fear of the body which has caused the fragmentation of my voice. Nor had we any desire to “rise above” our bodies. We knew what you need to remember: the body is where the gods speak to us. Your body is speaking to you, in hot flashes, in memory lapses, in a deep disorientation from the moon. You need me to help you in this change of the gods. I need you to give poetic voice to the change.

There is something I don’t understand. Do you not know about the change? Didn’t women of your time live past menopause?

Of course. Women have always known about menopause. In the ancient world we had our secret rituals, we knew the herbal remedies, all the lore of the wise blood. But none of this was valued, or written down. And as the men took over, and women’s spiritual practices were deemed dangerous, witchcraft, you forgot what we once knew. It got lost, like the poems of the poets before me, lost like the mysteries of Eleusis, like the many forms of the goddess.

The previous article is an excerpt from
The Sister From Below: When the Muse Gets Her Way
by Naomi Ruth Lowinsky

Naomi Lowinsky is the author of The Sister From Below: When the Muse Gets Her Way, The Motherline: Every Woman's Journey to Find Her Female Roots, and the just published book of poems, Adagio and Lamentation. She has authored numerous prose essays, many of which have been published in Psychological Perspectives and The Jung Journal. Her two previous poetry collections, red clay is talking (2000) and crimes of the dreamer (2005) were published by Scarlet Tanager Books. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize three times and is the recent recipient of the Obama Millennium Poetry awarded for "Madelyn Dunham, Passing On.” Naomi is a Jungian analyst in private practice, poetry and fiction editor of Psychological Perspectives.

Naomi’s publications are available from:

Barnes and Noble
Phone orders welcomed, Credit Cards accepted. 1-800-228-9316 toll free in the US and Canada, International +1-831-238-7799.

Below are links to download the FKP newsletter, current catalog, and price list/order form:

Fisher King Press Newsletter
Fisher King Press Catalog of Publications
Fisher King Press Price List and Order Form

(1) Sappho, Barnard trans., fragment #64.
(2) Judy Grahn, The Highest Apple : Sappho and the Lesbian Poetic Tradition, p. 7.
(3) Sappho, fragment #8.
(4) Hilda.Doolittle. (H.D.), Notes on Thought and Vision and The Wise Sappho, pp. 57-58.
(5) Sappho, fragment #37.
(6) C.M. Bowra, Greek Lyric Poetry, p. 130.
(7) Alcaeus, Greek Lyric Poetry, p. 239.
(8) Lowinsky, unpublished poem.
(9) Sappho, fragment #43.
(10) Sappho, The Poems and Fragments of Sappho, translated by Jim Powell, p. 33.
(11) H.D., The Wise Sappho, pp. 58-59.
(12) Sappho, fragment #39.

Copyright 2010 © Fisher King Press - Permission to reprint is granted.