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Reviewed by:
  • The Archetype Strikes Back
  • Rhonda Pettit (bio)
Celeste Newbrough, The Archetype Strikes Back (Berkeley: One Craft Publishing House 2010), 120 pages, no ISBN.

This book of poems is not overtly concerned with human rights as a broad, political concept, though elements of it can be said to indirectly relate to rights concerning gender, sexuality, religion, and quality of life vis-à-vis a well-tended environment. There are other poets—Czeslaw Milosz, Wislawa Szymborska, Adrienne Rich, Carolyn Forché, Denise Levertov, and Margaret Atwood to name a (gender biased) few—whose work would more immediately fall within a human rights aesthetic, if such an aesthetic exists apart from the sometimes contentious categories of political poetry, war poetry, social justice poetry, prison poetry, poetry of witness, and post-9/11 poetry. Reading this book, however, does lead one to consider the boundaries of what that aesthetic might be.

Although the book is not marketed this way, it reads like a "Selected and New" volume. Archetype includes thirteen poems previously published in Newbrough's first two books, Pagan Psalms and The ZanScripts,1 the titles of which suggest her ongoing spiritual motif. Many of these poems have been revised over the years. The book also includes twenty-four new poems, as well as other poems published previously in online and print journals [End Page 906] and in anthologies. Her poems range in origin from the 1970s to the 2000s, and in addition to spirituality address ecofeminism, science, math, nature, art, personal matters (love, the death of loved ones, illness), poetry, and poets.

Newbrough writes mostly in free verse, but at times uses loose variations of forms—ballade, idyll, canzone, haiku—and includes a few elegies, eulogies, prose poems, and a poetic drama. The voice of these poems is sometimes purely lyrical; at other times she adopts a spiritual persona that ranges from directive to demanding, as the book's title suggests. Archetype is somewhat unusual in that it includes twenty-two illustrations and photographs, most of them by the author, and eight pages of notes offering publication history and at times explanation. Given the range of subject matter and approaches, the book could benefit by organization into sections; this and a few epigraphs might eliminate the need for so many notes. However, I can imagine the author resisting such categorizing given the holistic nature of her spiritual quest.

In an apparent effort to transcend spiritual gendering, Newbrough draws on both patriarchal religious systems (Judeo-Christianity and Buddhism) and woman-centered theology, including the voice of feminine power found in the Gnostic Gospel known as "Thunder, Perfect Mind" (see her poem by the same title). Mediterranean and African mythology, as well as tarot cards, also factor into the mix. The title poem offers a sampling of these concerns. Given that "archetype" has its origins in Jungian psychology and a male-dominated twentieth century literary criticism, Newbrough's effort to create a gender-free "entity" that resembles the Russian ballet dancer Nijinsky ("it / gazes intermittently from me / to the watch on its wrist") offers an alternative to patriarchal religious discourse and its polar opposite, although its accompanying illustration, the collage "Archetype," looks more feminine than gender neutral. The archetype "strikes back" by defining itself on its own terms, free of "theory," "doctrine," "proof," and "reason … / at the beginning of thought."2 Elsewhere in the book there is a strong urge toward feminist theology. "Gaian Eulogy" drops neutrality, opening with "Mother, you are a great witch murdered"; later the "Soul of earth"3 that will "rise again"4 from destruction. In its metamorphosis we find "Gone, the skeleton of man, who never / Set aside greed and war to found a common land."5 Near the end of the volume, "Pieta: Mass to God The Mother" provides another example. Newbrough certainly exercises her right to explore spiritual matters from a number of perspectives.

A more overtly political poem, dating from 1973, is "Lavender Menace," its collective "I" the voice of lesbian experience throughout history. The voice chronicles abuse: "I am written in the margin / An historical aberration"6; "I am found in the pogrom"7; "I am found in the forest of suicides"8; "Some say...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1085-794X
Print ISSN
0275-0392
Pages
pp. 906-908
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-29
Open Access
No
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