Review: Glossing the Spoils by Charlotte Hussey

In 2012 I wrote a very short review of ‘Glossing the Spoils’ by Charlotte Hussey. In response to a call-out from Chris Funderburg at The Druid Network, I recently wrote a more detailed review as this book has been such a powerful and lasting influence on my path as an awenydd. I’m re-posting it here as I’ve gathered followers since 2012 and believe ‘Glossing the Spoils’ deserves to be widely known.

Glossing the Spoils

Charlotte Hussey lives in Canada and is a lecturer in Creative Writing and Arthurian Studies and Celtic Literature. She has also trained with OBOD and studied Celtic Shamanism with Tom Cowan. Glossing the Spoils is a poetry collection which Charlotte describes as a ‘march’ through the earliest texts in Western European literature to ‘mend a break in tradition and time’.

The medieval glosa is the perfect form for this purpose. It enables the author to take four lines from an existing text and weave them as end lines into each of four ten line stanzas. The effect is the creation of a space where one can ‘gloss’ the lines: explaining, interpreting, re-imagining, bringing ancient often obtuse fragments to life for a contemporary audience.

On the cover are coins from the Hallaton treasure at Harborough museum in Leicestershire. The book is concerned with the treasure-hoard of our past literally and metaphorically. In several instances the ‘spoils’ are shown to have a strange, animistic, frequently dangerous life of their own.

In ‘Lake of the Cauldron’ the narrator is pulled into the Cauldron of Rebirth by the goddess etched upon it with ‘dreadlocks’, ‘long breasts’ and ‘a sweaty belly’, to be dismembered and boiled in the ‘churning waters’. In ‘Matter’, a shield empowered by an engraved dragon implodes as the cyclone of atoms tearing apart at Hiroshima, upon its destruction. A branch cut from a crab apple tree ‘possesses a potency all of its own, / calling, called to those it chooses/ like the silver one from fairyland.’

Figures from the deepest strata of Western European mythology are presented in new ways; uncanny and familiar. Beowulf is ‘working for the crime squad’: a ‘vigilante’ ‘on a mission to purge the city’ taking on monsters like the ‘psycho TV star’ tacked to the narrator’s door. Fand is the tear in the eye of a girl, ‘bruised and weeping’ on the morning bus. The Fisher King, a Vietnam veteran, watches his recruits sucked into the brown river of his wound as napalm falls.

Variants of Parzival are explored from a range of angles. In ‘Trolls’ the knightly quest is critiqued from the standpoint of the Loathly Lady. The hero is depicted ‘steely eyes fixed on some distant / vanishing point: a crusading convoy to join, another holocaust to start, / or a melancholic witch to burn.’ The Lady speaks: ‘Thoughts about whom next to destroy deprive you of joy.’

Another recurrent theme is otherworldy and magical conceptions. ‘Daemon Lover’ covers the conception of Merlin. ‘Devil May Care’ forms a tongue-in-cheek depiction of how an otherwordly being in the form of a woman collects ‘white spume’ from a male youth then, as a man, uses his ‘vis vitalis’ to ‘make a woman conceive.’ ‘Make Over’ re-tells how, with Merlin’s aid, Uther Pendragon takes on ‘the appearance of the Duke’ to sleep with Igraine (leading to Arthur’s birth).

‘Naked’ celebrates male and female sexuality. Based on lines from Geoffrey of Monmouth referring to a naked giant riding a dragon it opens with the Cerne Abbas giant ‘defending his turf, toughened / nipples like second eyes; roused / cock sticks out from his thighs.’ However it is modernist artist Georgia O’Keffe who throws her clothes off, ‘shakes her paint brush… like a shillelagh, / to evoke a dragon, horned, crested, / and then ride upon it naked.’

I have covered only a selection of poems from this treasure-hoard of glosa, which never fail to shock, disturb and delight. I would highly recommend Glossing the Spoils to all students of Druidry, pagans and poets as exemplary in re-envisioning the oldest myths of Western European tradition with formal mastery. Charlotte’s methodology has been central to my poetic and imaginative practice since this book was released in 2012 and I can’t thank her enough.

Glossing the Spoils can be purchased HERE.

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