From Lilith to Eros

I’ve always wondered about the expression “brought up in a household of women”. The absence of the patriarch, the eldest boy become head of the house and being over-invested with “fatherly values”, or conversely, being manufactured as either a “mother’s boy – unable to take his place within the patriarcy”, or a mother’s revenge on the male world which left her in this state of aloneness. Of course, “a household of women” might mean a conspiracy of sisters, or a bench of aunts, a commune of women, or a woman-to-woman relationship. Whichever of these is specific to the conditions under which I wrote and indeed still write, in some way a consciousness of all these have influenced and continue to influence my work. I have a father, but he is absent or cross-dressed.

Lilith – first Eve in Hebrew myth – was appropriated as vengeful mother by me at an early date. The symbolism of Eve herself seemed to wrapped up in male wish-fulfilment, too much a propaganda exercise. The seed penetrating the egg, the passive deployment of the female body, the berkertex bride (à la Crass) implications of the exile from the Garden seemed conveniently aimed toward male empowerment. That Eve in fact fell to temptation rather than being implicitly evil seemed part of this. Lilith, on the other hand, was an emasculator – created from mud and dirt, she was the vengeful mother who copulated with demon spawn, who took her vengeance on males in their unfaithful dreams, who played the hand of guilt, who took God on despite everything, who challenged the sanctity of the first-born. I hated and loved her for this. As male, as first-born. And for me, she was the symbol of the power of language.

The Lilith Poems began as a collaboration with an Australian artist and sculptor, Mona Ryder. We were invited to work together on something called The Bookworks exhibition at the Perth Institute of Contemporary Art. I told Mona of the Lilith myth and she sparked – producing dozens of etchings and drawings which worked as parallel “texts” to a sequence of poems I was developing. Interestingly enough, we abandoned Lilith with regard to Bookworks because the project grew too large, settling instead on a work entitled The Book of Two Faces, which explores similar issues, the text of which is now included in Poems 1980-1994. Lilith itself went on to become a book but my publishers opted to integrate my texts into Eschatologies because of the expense of producing a book with artwork. Mona ended up displaying her artwork at the Queensland State Library with some hand-written poems to accompany it. The Lilith that I’m going to read is the condensed Eschatologies version – there is talk of the full book being published one day. The questions of gender identity that it explores are obvious, and are best stated by the poems themselves. Primary among them is the irony implicit in the presentation of a female voice by a male poet – persona is unstable and self-reflexive. In the end we have a “queer” rather than a female voice, and the male poet is deconstructed into the mouthpiece of patriarchy that it is, regardless of good intentions. Humour is the red herring – for the male poet to laugh at himself doesn’t suppress – if that’s the right word – his complicity in patriarchal oppressiveness.


Two poems from Full Fathom Five develop the Lilith theme further, but more in terms of aesthetics and popular culture. “Sexual Politics in Eadweard Muybridge’s Man Walking After Traumatism of the Head” and “On Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Six-Pack” are investigations of art and movement – cultural and physical. In both poems the father is cross-dressed and turned into cultural icon, playing against received notions of male identity. Edweard Muybridge is seen as a “father” of cinema, Andy Warhol as a “father” of pop art, The Velvet Underground, and the motivation for Valerie Solanas. It is interesting to consider the Factory members’ Freudian take on the Solanas shooting of Warhol – as parricide. At the basis of both poems is the issue of fetishation, of making consumables out of the body and art. The connection between “woman” and “art” – the product, not the process – being, of course, in patriarchy, undeniable. Through these poems, ironical as they might be, it is still male art we’re receiving. The Warhol poem is an unrhymed, semi-metred sonnet. It breaks down the binary between structure as a name and structure as a pragmatic device, but still it is a victim of history, of art, of the aesthetic. As is Marilyn, of course. She is the poem, is Warhol, is the audience. The author is dead, but so is the subject matter. And the value is rising daily, at least at the moment.