Sunday, February 18, 2018

Review of Artemis, the People's Priestess by Dilys Wood

I felt very honoured by this thoughtful and appreciative review - and it's great to know it makes readers laugh out loud!

Review of Artemis, the People's Priestess by Dilys Wood, ARTEMISpoetry, Iss 19, Nov 2017

Myth now spells freedom. Were there times when writers dare not meddle? Now myth is freely re-shaped to focus on key contemporary issues, while serving as a means of escape from directly confessional poetry. Cora Greenhill’s Artemis, The People’s Priestess evokes a modern ‘goddess’ – Diana, ‘The People’s Princess’. This may be adventitious, but this lively book-length verse drama pivots on the role of woman, explored in a way that’s both many-layered and ‘no holds barred’, with particular attention to women who refuse to conform, who have ambiguous (not always hostile) attitudes to sex and tradition, who are perhaps, ultimately, tradition-makers. The emphasis is on flesh and blood employing modern vernacular. Characters include Artemis, tom-boy and rebel, her more conformist twin, Apollo, Kallisto, a tragic female figure, and Maya (Earth), who keeps the substructure firmly in view while others lose themselves in aspects of the superstructure – rituals, art, meddling in politics. There’s nothing diagrammatic about either plot, characters, or the rich Cretan setting (well-known to Greenhill). The debate around woman’s role could have been thin and schematic with the thrust towards easy victory for Artemis the rebel – it isn’t. The background of ancient mores (clothes, make-up, rituals, based, it seems, on wide research) gives colour. The power and beauty of nature is a sub-theme: “massive / olive trunks threw purple lines / across the dappled tracks. // ‘Look at that mountain!’ I whispered, / pointing at a profile chalked onto blue” (Arrival). The plot is deliberately labyrinthine and this matches the handling of ideas. These are juggled, kept in the air: no preaching here. Ultimately, the protagonists vanish into the future with their questions. A fine achievement and enjoyable read with ample laugh-out-loud, edgy humour.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Rave Review of Artemis, The People's Priestess, by Rosie Jackson

This fabulous review is published in Tears in the Fence in February 2018. Thanks to Rosie Jackson and to David Caddy for commissioning it.

Artemis: The People’s Priestess by Cora Greenhill
(Three Drops Press, 2017, £8)

In the present climate of fraught sexual politics, where years of backlash against feminism are finally having some kind of day of reckoning as male privileges and abuse of power are being called to account (in the film industry and elsewhere), a verse drama which takes us back to the very beginnings of patriarchy – and an evocative reminder of all it lost and subdued – could not be more timely. Yet Cora Greenhill’s long poem never surrenders to mere polemics or abstract feminist thesis; this is a vivid, dramatized exploration of what it means, and has meant for centuries, to inhabit a male or female psyche, and the lasting cultural effects of both, ever since Greek mythology first represented our gendered identity in its various gods and goddesses, and told of the love and warfare between them. You need only look at the full title of Artemis: The People’s Priestess, to know this is going to be a deft blending of classical myth with contemporary reference. Artemis, goddess of hunting in Greek mythology, became Diana to the Romans – hence the jump to Diana, the people’s princess, sliding into the people’s priestess. This typifies the treat of irreverence, irony, subversion, wit, and an artful blending of ancient and contemporary, which run throughout the poem. 

The drama begins with a Prelude in 1450 BC, when a volcano on Mount Thera lays waste the island of Crete, destroys fleets and leaves the populace more open than ever to the controlling powers of religion. Born that night of a union between Leto and Zeus, the twins Artemis and Apollo come to represent the split between matriarchy and patriarchy, the (elder) female strong but enabling the man’s strength, the boy weak, but taken care of by his twin sister, their growth less a complete split than a complicated co-dependency:

I wouldn’t let go of him, so he survived
and wouldn’t let go of me. Original
co-dependency. Start and end of story. 
Could neither split nor live in harmony.

Artemis becomes goddess of the wild, of remote, lonely places – Aeschylus called her ‘lady of the wild mountains,’  - and Greenhill captures in a brilliant, unromanticised way, her passion for birds, animals, the untamed outdoors, dance, freedom of movement, foraged food, sensuality, fertility. Where Artemis is mythology’s ‘arch-outsider’, beyond the rule of man-made law, ‘all she ever cared about was feathered or furred,’ her brother Apollo, by contrast, is elevated to the god of civilisation, of harmony, proportion, transcendence, music, living by the rules he has invented to suit himself, - ‘There’s no place now for a woman without a man.’ This is a a superficial and destructive order in his sister’s eyes, easily degenerating into war, the abuse and rape of women, not inherently civilised at all. Thus their perennial conflict and some of the most telling lines come from the siblings’ descriptions of themselves and each other, each aware they are the other’s shadow, the edge of their identity, constantly at odds in their values. ‘You’re hunted, sister, not hunter now. Your subversive teaching is a threat.’ In their ‘last sibling spat’, Apollo, who admits he ‘Bigged up my brilliance…. I never did get mystery…’ asks: 

What exactly was my original sin? Being a BOY?
Or going with those who recognised my worth? 

And Artemis puts down Apollo for his not knowing the less visible way, the road less travelled.  

Of course you’d have been lost!
That’s the point. Don’t you get it yet?
To be lost in love would have made you a man – 
Following the labyrinth’s way, losing yourself to be found.

Indeed, it is their never ending spat, still going on in our culture now, which underlines the power of this work as a feminist epic, a kind of poetic allegory, huge in its ambition and reach, and that is how it lingers in the mind and imagination long after its ending. 

Thanks to many clever contemporary references, the story is constantly pulled into our own day in other ways too: a satire of diplomacy in the Knossos council; a critique of modern farming methods and carnivores; a warning of climate change; an attack on relying only on charity and handouts; men pursuing profit rather than sustainability – ‘they are harming/the balance of our land with all their farming.’; men reckless with their own seed too; and dire Handmaid’s Tale warnings of the punishment facing girls who don’t toe the line ‘Your little girls will be rounded up like rabbits,/ cured of their strange notions and uncouth habits.’

Perhaps all poems can only come from the highly specific combination of personal and cultural factors that go into their making, but this strikes me as conspicuously the case with Artemis. Cora Greenhill had English parents, but grew up in rural Ulster, where she felt to be on the edge of a culture. Like me, she studied literature at Warwick University in the heady days of Germaine Greer’s teaching there, and could hardly avoid the lasting influence of Greer’s powerful and unique brand of feminism. Then she taught in Nigeria and lived and worked in Crete, whose history of shamanic, pre-patriarchal ‘Minoan’ society became inspirational. Add to this twenty years of practising and teaching Gabrielle Roth’s 5 Rhythms dancework, marriage, motherhood, travel, a home in Crete as well as Sheffield, combined with writing, art, theatre, and the developing of her own distinct poetic voice in The Point of Waking (Oversteps, 2013) and Far from Kind (Pindrop Press, 2016), and it’s hard not to see Artemis as the happy, even inevitable, fruition of these various strands of experience and intellectual history in Greenhill’s rich creative life. 

If the feminist darts come thick and fast - 

You see, they just made things up
to create male supremacy –
‘s how they invented so-called history.
Wait ‘n’ I’ll put the records straight.

they also reveal the possibility of a different way, less visible than the linear and logical – wild, mysterious. They leave me with a renewed desire to learn more about matriarchal culture and the exact origins of patriarchy, so I’m now dusting off my old copy of Ann Baring and Jules Cashford’s wonderful study The Myth of the Goddess: Evolution of an Image (1991), which Greenhill quotes as one of her seminal texts. Is it true, for example, that when the huntress women removed their boobs, it was not for ease of shooting arrows, but to reduce their market value in slavery?  

Personally, I found the rhyming couplet contributions of the chorus (priestesses) and some of the other characters – Kallisto, Daphne, Hyacinthos, the Greek traders – less compelling than the dialogues and monologues of Artemis and Apollo, as this is so vividly and memorably their story, with all it has come to embody and represent in layers of mythology around gender and the psyche ever since. (Though, of course, everything might be transformed when the work’s in performance rather than being read on the page, and I would have loved to see the production in Sheffield at Off the Shelf’s Festival of Words, 21 October 2017).

Nevertheless, this is a formidable achievement, especially in a poetic culture where the long poem has often been considered a problematic genre for women writers, its roots in epic traditionally making it (despite works like Aurora Leigh) a predominantly male form. How wonderful, then, to have a long poem by a woman which not only holds it own, but radically addresses some of the very questions which have locked us inside unhelpful notions of gender and power imbalance for far too long.  In Artemis’ last words -

a labyrinth will always leave 
its ghostly pathway for those
who know how to walk between the worlds. 

Amen to that. 

Rosie Jackson 

For Notes on Contributors

Rosie Jackson left a successful academic career at the University of East Anglia and elsewhere to pursue a creative writing life. Her poems The Light Box (Cultured Llama) and her memoir The Glass Mother (Unthank Books) came out in 2016. In 2017 she won 1st prize in the Stanley Spencer poetry competition and 3rd Prize in the Hippocrates. She is a Hawthornden fellow. 

Review of

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Artemis has arrived!

The beautiful cover of my newest book, published by Three Drops Press last month!

I call it a myth-interpretation - or a performance piece in verse, based on the mythical twins, Artemis and Apollo.

The Greek Goddess Artemis - whom the Romans called Diana - is mythology's arch-outsider - lesbian feminist, environmental activist, radical midwife, shaman huntress, man-slayer when necessary, and like her tragic namesake, called the People's Priestess. Her twin brother Apollo, despite his extravagant juvenile delinquency, was elevated to be God of civilisation, harmony, proportion, and music.

"Greenhill applies the mind of a scholar, the ear of a poet, and the eye of a painter to create a fascinating allegory that explores the conflict between patriarchy and matriarchy as expressed in the sibling rivalry between twins Artemis and Apollo. An amazing achievement." 

Debbie Taylor, Editor of Mslexia magazine

"Cora Greenhill's verse drama begins on the day of the cataclysmic volcanic eruption which irreparably changes the ancient island of Crete and its inhabitants... a sensuous and heady brew of jealousies, same-sex passions,  hints of incest and rites of passage. Modern day reference and vernacular with a liberal scattering of humour ensure it is both accessible and captivating from start to finish." 

Geraldine Monk, poet
"Artemis: The People’s Priestess pulses with light, heat and movement. The collection tells the ‘back story’ of Artemis ... through a series of dramatic poems spoken by different characters. Like Tony Harrison’s translations of Greek Comedy, it restores the physicality and vibrancy of the original Greek myths, incorporating dance, rhythm and humour. This is a wonderful collection, and left me with the fire of Artemis in my belly."

Rachel Bower, poet

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Review of Far from Kind by Mandy Pannett

Another lovely review for Far from Kind from Mandy Pannett in Tears in The Fence 65 (edited by David Caddy) - my warmest thanks!

Far from Kind by Cora Greenhill Pindrop Press 2016 £9.99

     Like the orchard in ‘A Hum’, Far from Kind is flooded with light. Here the poems are lightscapes – ‘changing lightscapes we came to call beauty’ (‘Aquatic Ape’), wealthy in gold and kaleidoscopic in colour. Here the sea may reveal ‘the glide of a golden angel fish / then blue spotted ray, / purple parrot, yellow batfish,’ (‘On Chumbe Reef’) or a skyline of birds with wet feathers where the fading day turns ‘mauve, dull silver, deepening grey.’ (‘Last Supper’).
     Far from Kind’ begins with a description of a house being cleaned and prepared for new owners. This involves moving a colony of nesting bees out of the loft, scraping the rafters of honeycombs, of their ‘stash of sticky gold’. (‘The Hum’). This poem sets the tone for the whole collection: the ‘stash’ on display is not just honey but an outpouring of richly sensual, evocative imagery. ‘The Other Hand’ offers us a fine example: ‘I have stirred the cream and the curd/sprinkled spices/cardamon, rose petals, cloves’ says one who has lived among the royal silver-smiths, ‘my skin is silky/as the suspension/of butter in sauce.’ The narrator in ‘Dancing in Zanibar’ is ‘rewarded/with cardamom jellies,/dates softened/in passion fruit.’ We, as readers, are also rewarded, not only with a gorgeous feast of words, but with the fascinating technique of an image personified into metaphor as, for example in ‘The Hum’ where the girl who is clearing out the bees finds ‘the mess’ transformed into a gift of love when she ‘trickles downstairs, slides into night,/belly brimming amber, trembling to be touched, to be tasted.’

     This sense of joy in language, this exuberant exploration of possibilities strikes me as the keynote of Cora Greenhill’s writing. Many phrases such as ‘bogs brash with marigolds’ and ‘harebells in heather’ (‘Nature Cure’) brim with the fun of alliteration or leap off the page with their aptness and wit like ‘lightning that electrocutes the blood’ (‘For My Firstborn’). Among my favourites, also from ‘Nature Cure’, are ‘a wrinkle of cream’ and ‘a curl of new kittens’ closely followed by phrases from ‘Dolphin Trip’ where ‘The bay foams with testosterone/at the first sighting of fins. Twelve speedboats scream/with love lust to spear them,/ snorkels cocked, zooms at the ready’. Opening and closing lines of the poems also show this deftness and precision with words. ‘We would green deserts for that smile’ concludes the narrator in ‘Hannah’s First Birthday’ while ‘Hit’ explores the poignancy of a relationship where ‘Free to leave, you left’ with these ending lines:

There was a time when people thought
smells like oranges and cloves
could keep disease at bay.

But sweets can’t take the pain away
though this is heaven’s scent.

     Others have commented on the images and themes of music and dancing in this collection. They are strong motifs and I would like to explore further the way in which ‘Voices sing words our world has never heard.’ (‘Night in the Museum’). In this deserted museum, closed for restoration many years previously, the marble floor is thick with ‘five winters’ of plane tree leaves, there are ‘wads of cobwebs’ and glass cases at twilight are grimy with dust. Yet above all this there are curves and spirals on vases and jugs that reveal ‘dolphins swimming, dancers arching’ and in an empty Bronze Age room ‘Sistrums/begin to rattle, harps pluck at our hearts.’ Similarly, in ‘For My Firstborn’ the narrator lists an assortment of things she remembers, many things she has loved including ‘drums hammered out from palm oil cans,/rattles of chilli peppers and raffia,/dance steps that vibrate/beyond the feet’. Possible the most striking and original motif of melody and dance is in the poem ‘Single Parent’ where the exhausted mother, faced with her toddler throwing a tantrum on the kitchen floor, copes with her anger by ‘turning the rising/rage into a tarantella no one had taught her, / whirling, to stop herself hurting him.’ In these poems by Cora Greenhill it is not only sistrums that pluck at our hearts.
     There are many voices in Far from Kind including the not only human. There are many settings as well, some exotic, some everyday. There is brutality too, poverty, anger, hardship, an exploration of the seedy and cruel. Most of all, however, there is an overlay to these poems of love, joy and an exuberant relish for ‘the elastic stuff of life’. (‘Hannah’s First Birthday’). In Far from Kind people endure and survive, learn, as in ‘Aquatic Ape’, to see ‘skylight in each other’s eyes’. 

Mandy Pannett

Friday, February 10, 2017

New review of Far from Kind

My deep thanks to D.A. Prince for this review, and to Orbis for publishing it.

RHYTHMS OF HUMAN WARMTH: REVIEW BY D. A. PRINCE Far from Kind by Cora Greenhill, 76 pp, £9.99, Pindrop Press, Mallards,
Steers Place, Hadlow, Kent
Cora Greenhill’s name is well-known because her poems appear regularly in a range of magazines (Orbis 169) and I thought this had given me a sense of familiarity with her work. My mistake. Previous piecemeal acquaintance with a handful of poems was scant preparation for the richly-coloured language and energetic rhythms that drive Far from Kind. It travels through Ireland and Nigeria, Crete and the Peak District, having a constant engagement with people and their way of life. The book proves the bonus of reading a full collection, and concentrating entirely on one poet. Open to ‘the mysterious kindness of strangers’ as much as to her own family, Cora finds colour and texture wherever she is: ‘down here on the cracked heel of Europe’ (‘Borrowers’); ‘Like butterflies with folded wings / pinned primly on the bay.’ (‘Dhows’); ‘... Burbage Brook ...freckled with amber light that flickers through oaks / like half-remembered dreams’ (‘Starting with Rivers’). She is drawn to the natural world, to those who live closer to it.
‘Nature Cure’, its three-line stanzas packed with detail, could be an account of her own childhood as well as providing guidance on child-rearing.
Neglect your child. Set her free to find home in bogs brash with marigolds, cuckoo flowers, harebells in heather.
It’s a celebration of positive neglect, the kind that allows for learning about personal relationship with the rhythms of Nature, knowing: ‘to slip a hand under the Maran’s downy breast / for warm eggs ...’, or which neighbour will give her ‘A curl of new kittens to hold.’ This is the Ulster of Cora’s own childhood. Yet ‘For My Firstborn’ turns unexpectedly from all she had loved about life in Nigeria:
I loved the hypertension before the rains, lightening that electrocutes the blood, maps the night sky with mercury,
ignites yellow bulbs in paw paw trees


and where six of the stanzas begin emphatically ‘I loved ...’, to build a pattern of intense engagement, but end with a final couplet in strong emotional contrast with the quatrains:
And I left, to be with your father, make and love you.
Her instinctive response to music and dance rhythms, particularly West African and Cretan, shape her choice of language, such as in the ending of ‘To my Firstborn’, letting the simplicity of monosyllables reveal the elemental in love. It’s most effective. In ‘Dancing in Zanzibar’, she is ‘looped / into the tunes / feet hips hands / unable not to dance’. With ‘Single Parent’, she shows the mother dealing with a toddler’s tantrum by ‘...turning the rising / rage into a tarantella no one had taught her, / whirling, to stop herself hurting him.’ The shifting rhythms between the poems give the collection variety and energy, a human warmth that she has encountered in every country she has travelled - and she travels with her eyes open.
In a world increasingly reduced to computer screens, smartphones and virtual experience, we need poems like these. 

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Invitation to launch of Far from Kind

Far from Kind: introduction.

The striking picture on the front of Cora Greenhill's new book is of a collage of her own work - a frame containing debris from the sea - plastic and nylon rope mixed with fragments of seaweed. Inside a fractured mask of Aprodite, symbolising the broken Greek Goddess in the refuse of today's oceans. The dark yet beautiful image sets up some of the themes of the poetry in Far from Kind: sensual, darkly beautiful, suggestive of the precarious edge on which humanity teeters.

The title, Far from Kind, is a phrase taken from the poem In our own Hands, about touch: how we need to learn to be in touch again, deeply and naturally, with each other, and crucially with other species. The poem is triggered by an intimate encounter with an aging baboon, who 'rested her slim palm, cobweb-soft, in mine,' and reflects on how far we've travelled from when our earliest ancestors made the first human footprints in the mud of Africa. Other poems take the reader back to the roots of human ways of thinking and acting. The sonnet, Aquatic Ape, pictures the lives of the earliest humans who gradually migrated along the coasts of Africa, making the radical suggestion that 'Free of the need to hunt to survive/and before labour was invented, ... Holiday was the spur of evolution.' Another poem is in the cynical voice of a woolly mammoth in The Natural History Museum, and another in the voice of the ancient Mesopotamian river God, Enki, despairing of modern politics and hunkering down in his muddy domain.

But Far from Kind is as personal as it is universal, with many poems in a more confessional tradition which also explore unflinchingly human unkindness, whether due to a conditioned fear of another species 'a pretty slip of a thing/purest green serpentine' which causes a snake's unnecessary death in Endangered; or the callous feelings of a liberated young woman towards a lover she's finished with, 'your hunger, so recently/my horn of plenty, just looked like poverty'; or an African philandering professor who assumes FGM to be the norm.

Though the author is a lifelong feminist, the exploration of human frailty and sometimes cruelty in this collection is equally critical and compassionate towards men and women, and all held within an overriding tenderness towards the living world of which we are only a part, with a passionate hope that we can learn from and for the children:

Let her throw socks! we laugh.
Grow those throwing muscles!
Make free with your world
as old gods hurled thunderbolts
when they were gay as Picasso
shaping the elastic stuff of life
like play-dough in their hands,
amazed what they could do. 

(Hannah's First Birthday)