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A Song of Lilith
by Joy Kogawa

A Song of Lilith

Reviewed by JoAnna Thomsen

"Lilith" Mythology Reclaimed

A Song of Lilith is a collection of poetry by Joy Kogawa, highlighted with artwork by Lilian Broca. Kogawa is a Japanese-Canadian author, currently living in Toronto, Ontario. She is perhaps best known for her award-winning novel Obasan, which focuses on Japanese-Canadians during WWII. This collection of poetry takes a quite different subject matter, focusing on the mythological figure of Lilith -- the "first woman" -- and her story. The work reclaims Lilith as a figure of independence for women rather than letting her stand as the negative, demonized figure she has become.

Originally a complete multimedia performance staged in numerous locations across Canada, A Song of Lilith retells the myth of the first woman through both words and images. Beginning with her creation (from the dust, rather than Adam's rib), the poetry follows Lilith from her flight from the Garden of Eden to her refusal to return and be subordinated by Adam, and finally relates to the reader why she is still important today.

Joy Kogawa's poetry provides the perfect blend of mythology and contemporary culture in order to draw in her audience. Rather than alienating her readers or letting them slip into thinking of the Lilith myth as merely fantasy, Kogawa effectively links the importance of the distant, mythological past to the present, going so far as to reference media such as television and the Internet. One prominent example which draws parallels between Lilith and women of the past and present -- and of all social standings -- is as follows:


And up from the battered seed,
Wings loud with exultation,
Comes Lilith, at last-
By plane, by foot
By taxi, by wheelchair
With shoes, without shoes
From back alleys and the bedrooms
From cardboard boxes (92)

In this quote and throughout the book, Kogawa brings out Lilith as a strong role model for all women, regardless of their own religion, race, or class background. She calls out for women to take after the example of Lilith, rather than the complacent Eve.

Together, through the poetry and images in A Song of Lilith, Kogawa and Broca weave a striking new telling of the Christian myth of creation but do not limit their message solely to a Christian audience. She urges us to stand strong in the face of opposition and reclaim these myths, which have been slandered throughout time. As she herself says:

My sisters, the task is therefore ours
To make a stronger design / To knit each tale of grief
In the name of the child
Along the quivering edges of our wings
And to birth the new age
Under the banner
Of our true and original name" (96)