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lip lit: lupa and lamb


L and L

This collection is the ultimate in feminist poetry. Its breadth is mind-boggling, its vision grand.

‘Lupa’ means wolf, so Lupa and Lamb is the hunter and the hunted, the dichotomy of woman as dangerous seductress she-devil, and innocent bleating victim. These tired archetypes cross cultures and centuries.

she is the lamb in the sheepfold
wolf in the forest
virgin violated
lupa levitated
Madonna whore
lesbian lover
her transitoriness
is as permanent
as memory and invention
she falls and rises falls and rises

Lupa and Lamb manages to achieve the incredible — it tells the story of women throughout the ages.

if you want to know hurt
look at every woman here
the bravest and the oldest
both rich and poor bear scars

The narrative begins with Medusa boarding an aeroplane and the narrative skilfully blends mythic elements with the modern world in this way.

their broomsticks are for
sweeping the sky
not sweeping floors

In many ways Lupa and Lamb is like a historical fiction, travelling back through the ages to tell the stories of women who were silenced.

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
and we laughed

Dates, locations and notes often accompany the poems. These discuss the poems as historical artefacts and the poets as historically significant figures, adding to the book’s authenticity and authority. This poem was dated 1961:

sheep town scandal
five hundred residents
hushed but even
school children hear

sons of well-to-do farmers
on charges of rape

As a woman reading the text, I felt as though I was part of a huge injustice that has cursed our species and plagued women since prehistoric times.

they are not interested in us
just how we measure up
to some unstated norm
we know it isn’t fair
but it doesn’t stop us from competing

the redhead is pulled out first
they write ‘big tits’ next to her name
give her eleven out of ten
she is loud full of bravado
doesn’t hurt me she brags

The framing narrative is that all these women across countries, cultures and centuries — wolves and lambs alike — are coming together for a grand party.

they come in tunics and saris
in wound cloths and in string skirts
they come in animal hides
and they come naked

One of the most fascinating moments is when the character of Curatrix shares a performance poem with the group:

you say but but
you look like a slut
you must be a slut
if you’re out at 3am

The women share their stories of oppression and mistreatment in order to draw strength from one another — celebrating the fact that womankind has endured the horrors of patriarchal reign and has not been beaten.

though they be mere mortals
these women
are equal in character to gods
they led peoples
had the faults of humans
they changed
history they challenged the order
of things

This book made me feel as though the struggle for women’s rights is epic and eternal — which in truth is a little disheartening since attacks on women continue and it can sometimes feel as though this war of the sexes may never end.

the chant continues and could go on
for days months years eons
Lilla says the future extends
as far forward as the past

we have millennia ahead

But at the same time, reading Lupa and Lamb gave me the sense that our voices as feminists today are backed up by the voices of all those incredible women who have risked their lives and freedom to speak out before, and that is why this is such an inspiring and powerful book.

Writing like this helps me believe that sexism — despite being so persistent and pervasive — is not insurmountable with so many voices speaking out against it. Writers like Hawthorne give me hope that women’s voices are growing with each generation, and that they will ultimately make themselves heard.

it is time
we reassert ourselves
from every continent
from many times

Lupa and Lamb is available from feminist publisher Spinifex Press.


Bronwyn Lovell lives in Melbourne. Her poetry has appeared in numerous publications, including Best Australian Poems, Award Winning Australian Writing, Cordite and the Global Poetry Anthology. Bronwyn has won the Adrien Abbott Poetry Prize and been shortlisted for the Newcastle, Bridport, and Montreal prizes.

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