Women Versed in Myth

About the Book

Throughout history, men have prayed to gods and poets, have interpreted ancient myths for new audiences. But what about women? With sections on teaching and modern writing, this collection of new essays examines how modern female poets—including H.D., Louise Glück, Ruth Fainlight, Rita Dove, Sylvia Plath and others—have subverted classical expectations in interpreting such legends as Persephone, Helen, and Eurydice. Other mythological figures are also explored and rewritten, including Buddhism’s Kwan Yin, Celtic Macha, the Aztecs’ Coatlicue, Pele of Hawaii, India’s Sita, Sumer’s Inanna, Yemonja of the Yoruba and many more.

About the Creative Process: From Book to Live Performance

When Colleen Harris submitted her book, Women Versed in Myth, as the basis for a piece I felt inspired and compelled to embody her writing, to physically communicate the concepts discussed. When the Jazz 2 class was enrolled solely with female students, I knew that was a great starting place.

Each student had to read a chapter from Harris’s book and create a video presentation on the main themes of the chapter with ideas about how it might be turned into a performance. After hearing the students’ presentations, it was clear that there would be two parts. The first would represent the female portrayed by the writings of men, trying to physically communicate a sense of community within the group and what it means to be female veiled by centuries of the opposite gender’s definitions. Collaborating with the African Drumming class to provide sound that was indigenous, ancient, and primal was an important component.

The second part was more difficult. The search for a contemporary female power anthem proved an unfortunately futile effort that only bolstered our sense of commitment to the piece. The narrative of most songs surrounding a strong woman also deal with her break away from or independence from a man. However, this dance was not about breaking away from the confines of a toxic relationship, it was about being a strong, self-loving, self respecting, intelligent woman who can create her own destiny and embrace all the wonderful and challenging aspects of being female in the world–not in spite, of or in direct relation, to men. It is about redefining our image for ourselves.

Browsing through my playlists, I stumbled upon Aerosmith’s “Dream On.” The opening lines seemed very appropriate:

Every time when I look in the mirror

All these lines on my face getting clearer

The past is gone

It went by, like dusk to dawn

Isn’t that the way

Everybody’s got the dues in life to pay

I know nobody knows

Where it comes and where it goes

I know it’s everybody sin

You got to lose to know how to win

Half my life

Is books written pages

Live and learn from fools and

From sages

You know it’s true, oh

All these things you do come back to you

Working with Paul Murphy and the Contemporary Music Ensemble, we reworked the song to have a female voice sing the lead, but also inserted poetry to be rapped, written by Colleen Harris called “Love Letter To My WomanSelf.” The reinterpretation of a male song into a statement about female community, strength, and redefinition seemed an appropriate contemporary manifestation of the original research material.

Dance is the ultimate Rorschach test, often what viewers interpret of the artistic abstraction speaks more to their life experiences than what the artists intend. We hope you enjoy the presentation and feel our strong female spirits claiming our own destinies and blazing a trail for a better earth and stronger human connection.

Love Letter To My WomanSelf

By Colleen Harris

Your curves spill

unshy from your bones

an avalanche

of everything

a woman should be

in that soft sultry slide

from hip to heel

Your body doesn’t slide

whimpering and apologetic

into a room

no, your body

bangs into a room

your body strikes

a drum when it walks

Your hair is no tame pelt

lying limp across your shoulders

that hair

has snared kings

that hair

has ruled nations

Your skin doesn’t fade to pale

afraid of the sun

you are carved of earth

stepped whole-made

elemental woman

Every color you are

is delicious



coffee toffee woman

dark sweet sharp sugar woman

come take me, teach me

to make my eyes spark

like glitter on black velvet

that has swallowed the sun

I want to learn to be warm

like a blanket

Photos For Accompanying Slide Show Curated from:

















Los Angeles Times




Spark Videos Created by Students in Jazz 2 referencing the book Women Versed in Myth

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