A Song of Lilith


110 pages
ISBN 1-55192-366-1
DDC C811'.54






Illustrations by Lilian Broca
Reviewed by W.J. Keith

W.J. Keith is a retired professor of English at the University of Toronto and author A Sense of Style: Studies in the Art of Fiction in English-Speaking Canada.


A Song of Lilith is an ambitious, worthy, but not wholly realized
attempt to provide feminism with a sustaining poetic myth. Lilith,
Adam’s first wife who revolted against his domination, is a shadowy
figure in surviving Jewish legend, and Joy Kogawa has here recreated the
substance of a possibly suppressed ancient story. A difficulty, however,
is involved: myth is an ancient literary mode, and Kogawa was writing in
the last years of the 20th century. Her contemporary free verse reads
like a modern biblical translation, while I longed for the resonance of
the Authorized Version.

The poetic text is, I suspect, likely to be overpraised by those who
are attracted to the message and care less about verbal effect. Kogawa
begins well—“From out of the land of legend / Into the orb of our
day / She comes singing us to the place / Of beginnings”—but as soon
as words like “patriarchal,” “entrapment,” “Autonomy,”
“narcolept ideal, “corporate marketeers” begin to intrude, myth
and poetry give way to propaganda and rhetoric. She makes skilful use of
biblical language and allusion (Lilith’s temptation seen in terms of
Job and Jesus in the wilderness, for example), but the contrasts
sometimes strain. I found myself wondering whether a series of more
concentrated lyrics might have worked better than an extended narrative
always skirting the prosaic.

Nonetheless, this is an attractive book, Kogawa’s text is illustrated
by graphite and acrylic drawings by Lilian Broca, which fuse modern
images with a blend of Blake-like pictorial forms. The combination of
arts is necessary. I first encountered parts of this poem when Kogawa
gave a reading at the Visionary Tradition conference at the University
of Guelph in 1999, and the element of performance created a powerful
effect. In some respects, the text reads like an opera libretto without
orchestral accompaniment; the introductory material, indeed, refers to a
multimedia performance, including music, that could well provide an
extra dimension that is inevitably lacking here.


Kogawa, Joy., “A Song of Lilith,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 22, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/8468.