New York Woman's Literary Salon

September - October 1979 Newsletter

Text of the Newsletter:
"LES VACHES DE NUIT" ("NIGHT COWS"), a bilingual dramatic reading by Pol Pelletier, founder of Le Theatre Experimental des Femmes in Montreal.
Our social hour this evening will be dedicated to a celebration of He'lene de Beauvoir, whose feminist art exposition opens at 5:00 on the same day. We invite you to attend the opening at the WARD-NASSE Gallery; 178 Prince Street, NYC and then to meet He'lene de Beauvoir at our salon at 7:00 p.m. [Click here for a photograph from the Jovette Marchessault and Helene de Bueavoir salon]

reading from FATHER'S DAYS: A TRUE STORY OF INCEST, followed by a free group sharing of experiences in this area. Both Salons will take place on Saturday nights at 7 p.m. at the home of Erika Duncan:
463 West Street (Westbeth) Apt. 933B
Between Bank and Bethune Streets.

September 22:
JOVETTE MARCHESSAULT, LES VACHES DE NUIT (NIGHT COWS)-A bilingual dramatic reading by Pol Pelletier, founder of Le Theatre Experimental des Femmes in Montreal.

Photo by Josee Coulombe note reproduced here. For photographs of Pol Pelletier's performance go to Select Womens' Salons Photographs page.

The Woman's Salon will inaugurate its fifth salon season on Sept. 22, 1979 with an international bilingual program of visionary feminist literature, theatre and art from Quebec.

Jovette Marchessault, whose creative work we are excited about presenting to American women, is a multi-talented, self-taught feminist writer, painter and sculptor whose mythico-poetic universe first came into being when she was in her mid-thirties. It was upon the painful event of the

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death of her beloved grandmother, whose magical spirit infuses all of her writings, that she decided to leave her job in Montreal and to transform her life by withdrawing to the peaceful banks of the Riviere Ouareau in order to compose her first novel, COMME UNE ENFANT DE LA TERRE (Editions Lemeac 1975). One year later this inspired work was selected as the winner of the PRIX FRANCE-QUEBEC for 1976.

Jovette Marchessault has written poignantly of her artistic inspiration: 'Like you I am a child of the stars. Born of winter, I have wandered long through many seasons until I came to painting, to writing. My work is a reflection of a yearning, a yearning for the times when a sacred order reigned over the land of the quick ... then we were participants-woman's head, her shoulders matched the curve of the sky."

When I first read her book, COMME UNE ENFANT DE LA TERRE (LIKE A DAUGHTER OF THE EARTH) only one year ago, I was moved beyond words by the poetic beauty, the epic aspirations, and the mythic depths of the text. Here at last was a new kind of feminist writing. Here at last was a work that embarked upon a search for cosmic renewal, creating a universe in which woman's primordial powers were restored to their full temporal and archetypal dimensions; one that transported us to the very origins of pre-patriarchal space and time in an ecstatic shamanic trip towards the recovery of a lost womansoul. The vision-quest journey made by Jovette Marchessault's autobiographical protagonist is a sacred female journey towards those ancestral images and vibrant energies that restore an original telluric contact with our ancient female ancester, The Great Plant Mother, LA MERE DES HERBES, which is the title of her second novel. These two novels (the third is now in-progress) form part of a trilogy which I see as creating a new feminist myth of origins-one that celebrates the resurrection of our mythic, historical and literary ancestors, climaxing in a ritual rebirth of the Self that affirms the primeval majesty of our celestial and terrestrial Ur-nature. In this "second coming" where woman is born of woman to woman through her own election, she awakens to a world recreated in her own image and emerges as a self- generating, self-perpetuating force, a New Being, whose presence is an incarnation of all the powers and the wonders of the Great Mother on the terrestrial plane:

"I'm coming. I'm coming quickly. I'm coming like a mud-slide, belly to belly with a toad, scale to scale with a pike, hide to hide with a moose, with a she-wolf of the north, with a she-bear. I glance once more over the ground of permanent sacrifice! I survey its depressions, its holes, its continents and archipelagoes. I also see a centaur on the church porch and a bull in the railroad yard. And I choose them, I choose them! Why them? Why? That's none of your business: there is a new beginning for everything and you will never make me believe that the well-spring of motivation is metaphysical; that it flows directly from the Great Spirit, from the breast of the Great She-Bear accompanied by all sorts of admirable signs, miracles, and mutations, and that this source makes us fruitful.

"I could have chosen to land on the Ile de Re off the coast of France or in Poland or in Northern Ireland. But I chose to arrive in this subarctic land since the climate of my heart was already favourable to dreaming, music, and fine, driving snow. I am coming home, home to the sacred geography of the Amerindian earth. The wind howls. Time passes. The sky trembles. Below is winter. My mother raps with her hooves on the porch of a church on Rachel Street, bending herself into an arch.

"The time has come; they give me the signal and I dive, I dive, I descend straight as an arrow like a gob of spit let fly from the patriarchal sun." (COMME UNE ENFANT DE LA TERRE pp. 347-34). Translation by Yvonne Klein.

When I first met Jovette Marchessault last August she had not yet written LES VACHES DE NUIT (NIGHT COWS), the text which moved over 1,000 Quebequoise women to ecstasy and tears this past winter in Montreal, and which will be performed for you at our first salon as it was
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originally created up the stage of Le Theatre du Nouveau Monde in March 1979 by Pol Pelletier, founder of Le Theatre Experimental des Femmes in Montreal. Jovette Matchessault's passionate conviction that the words of women must break through the silences and sound barriers imposed by the limitations of the book-object as it has been handled in patriarchal literary culture, her desire to have women's voices resonate in all the public spaces, forums, and theatres of her land, motivated her to conceive and realize the dramatic feminist event CELEBRATIONS with the creative collaboration of feminist writer Nicole Brossard and of Anne Le Dain, Director of Le Theatre du Nouveau Monde in Montreal. Under the artistic direction and performance of Pol Pelletier, with dramatic interpretations by Louise Laplante and the collaboration of Nicole Lecavalier, with percussion music by Lise Cuillerier, and with lighting effects by Dominique Gagnon, a program of feminist literary works by Quebequoise and U.S. women writers filled Le Theatre du Nouveau Monde to capacity in celebration of International Women's Day 1979. Another such spectacle is currently being prepared for a ten-day presentation in Montreal and a tour throughout Quebec this coming Spring. It is Jovette Marchessault's dream to encourage the creation of new dramatic texts which will catalyze moments of communion and ecstasy that transform the vibration of these public spaces through the injection of female energy and vision into the world at large.

NIGHT COWS is just such a magical text! Written as an incantation to all sacred female relationships-Mother/Daughter, Goddess/Woman, Animal/Anima, Woman/Woman, Marchessault takes us on a nocturnal flight to the celestial sabbath of our mammalian mothers who, on the mythic plane, learn of their matriarchal heritage dating from before the time of 'The Order-of-the-Castrators', learn from their ancestors, the Night Crows, of the extermination of the sacred 'Time of The Mothers', and, in a ritual revelation, awaken from non-existence to the borning vision of a promised land of female desire.

The theatrical work of Pol Pelletier, who will interpret NIGHT COWS for us, is devoted entirely to feminist creation. She works on the level of the imagination with the waking dream as well as with the female body, releasing new verbo-visual images and physical energies in order to create a powerful theater of Exaltation and Hope in women's culture. Most recently she created the SPECTACLE SUR LA PEUR on the theme of terror and the fears of vulnerability and oppression that are common to all women. Before that she participated in the collective creation A MA MERE, A MA MERE, A MA MERE, A MA VOISINE, a piece about Mother-Daughter relationships with Louise Laprade and Nicole Lecavalier. In the production LA NEF DES SORCIERES, a work by seven Quebequoise feminists, Pol wrote and interpreted one of the two monologues of The Lesbian Woman. Her theatrical season of the Winter of 1980 will bring to the stage a dramatic production of Jovette Marchessault's LESBIAN CHRONICLE OF MEDIEVAL QUEBEC for which the author will execute the sculptures to be used for the decor.

A lesbian since her youth, Jovette Marchessault's chronicle retraces the years of her early childhood through her adolescence. Her text is a vitriolic analysis and criticism of the sexual oppression of women in Catholic-dorninated Quebec.

Jovette Marchessault is presently at work on the third volume of her trilogy to be entitled CELLES QUI PARLENT LE LANGAGE DES OISEAUX (THOSE WHO SPEAK THE LANGUAGE OF THE BIRDS). NIGHT COWS is a part of this larger work which will be about

four women writers, two deceased and two living, who meet in a magical space-time vortex. Another more recent text, LES FAISEUSES D'ANGES, about women who performed abortions illegally, will also form an integral part of this new volume of her trilogy.

At the age of 32, only three years before she started her first novel, Jovette began her work in the visual arts. During the course of the past decade she has had over 25 solo shows of her frescoes, drawings, masks, and sculptures. These works will be presented at the salon in a slide-lecture following the performance of NIGHT COWS. Jovette's artistic works echo the visionary concerns of her writing, for they too present archaic images of our lost womansoul. Her most recent sculptures are totemic icons of TELLURIC WOMEN, WOMEN OF HOPE, WOMEN OF RESURRECTION. They are primeval women, women sprung directly from the Earth and who embody the forces of womanpower and the primordial energies that revive the lost worlds we communed with in ancient times. They speak to us in haunting metaphors of the phoenix-like resurrection that women are undergoing all over the world today. These sculptures will be part of an 8-Woman Show of Montreal Artists to be held at the Soho 20 Gallery in New York from Jan. 26 to Feb. 20, 1980. A book project is also underway incorporating texts by women writers from many countries inspired by the images of these Telluric Women.

Jovette Marchessault's prolific artistic production over only a decade of self-discovery and concentrated work (for she received no formal training or education, having left school at the age of 13), her resolve to transform her life through art by giving ecstatic esthetic expression to her dreams, memories and visions in many diverse media, and her courage, serve as stunning examples of possibility and hope to all women who yearn to begin anew as transformers of their lives and their culture.

Jovette Marchessault's creative works in the domains of literature and art seem to forge a new "sacred space" within contemporary consciousness for the great rebirth ceremonies that women are now experiencing in their lives.

I hope that this evening of celebration with Quebequoise women in the arts will bring the feminists of North America together in many new and beautiful ways-ways that transcend the language barriers, the geographical boundaries, and the cultural differences that separate us- ways that reunite all women from the many diverse ethnic backgrounds that flourish on the American land. I hope that this evening will inspire us to dream together onward the shared visions of our awakening to the repossession of all the powers of the imagination and of myth- making that will bring about a feminist revolution in art and in society everywhere on the planet.
Gloria Orenstein

In October Katherine Brady will discuss and read from FATHER'S DAYS, her new book chronicling her ten year incest with her father, a relationship begun when she was eight as a quest for affection and protection from the loneliness of night when her mother was out at work. Compassionately, beginning with her mother's pregnancy with her younger brother, after which her mother withdrew, Katherine Brady traces the young child's fumbling search for warmth and love, and how it changes into a dread secret and a trap once more complex awareness comes. "Don't tell anyone about this ever, Katy. No one else would ever understand" is the father's continual unvarying refrain, as well as "you are giving me what your mother cannot." Told over and over that it is her own need which her father is responding to, she finds that she must sleep with him more and more in order to keep the family peace she wants so much. For is his sexual needs are not fulfilled, he will be much more ruthless in his quarrels with her mother, he will pick more on her older sister. So gradually it becomes clear that to let her father give her younger brother candy and movie money to leave the house is easier than to resist. Thus a small child takes on the burden, not only of the incest itself, but of unilaterally trying to keep the family peace. It is a losing battle which

only ends when at eighteen she insists she can no longer belong to her father as she has promised herself as a possession to another man.

This is a book of striving to break free and understand, from the first childlike moves towards love, to later days of being perfect High School student, perfect beauty queen and wife. But nothing working. No ritual housecleaning and body washing took the feeling of the secret and the shame away. Then finally, through a surge of passion for a woman, she found the strength to start to dare to talk. The last three years, since then, through which she wrote the book, have been a wonderful though often arduous, momentous journey. "It took me back to places I'd never wanted to go again. I felt things I'd hoped were buried forever. I was not always a willing traveler; it was an agonizing, arduous trip. But it gave me back my life, which I hadn't possessed for nearly thirty years, and so I cannot regret a single moment of it.

"Three years ago, when I was thirty-two years old, I didn't even know what the word "incest" meant, although I had had a sexual relationship with my father that lasted ten years. Three years ago I thought I was the only person who'd ever had such an experience. I believed this was something that had happened in the past and remained there, unfortunate but finished.

"As I've unraveled the legacy of my childhood these last few years, I've learned that incest is alarmingly common. I've learned that my entire life was shaped by its happening to me. And I've learned that by looking at it-releasing it from thew prison of the past, letting it rise up into the present-I could at last leave it behind."

This book is rare in both its courage and compassion, for all the people in it, no matter what their roles. And through its very human tone it seems to touch in all of us that strength to start to look into the badly crippled parts of self with love and hope. Because no one of the participants is really turned upon (though none are spared) what we are left with is not anger at the individuals for an atrocity which cannot be undone, but an absolute conviction that in the present tense responsibility for the whole situation must be shared, and all must join in an effort to face it publicly so that such things shall never be again. We areleft also,not with a sensethat wounds can be charmed away (Katherine Brady will always be haunted by what happened to her), but with a realization that the badly wounded are entitled to a voice and to real help in healing from us all, that for our own survival we must let them in and listen to them.

So slowly, and painfully, we try to start again. The last chapter begins: "So many times in my life I've thought I was starting over ... And each time I counted on magic-a new place, a new person-to make everything different, not understanding that I'd be taking myself along, that I'd be the ingredient that would determine how things turned out. It baffled me that they always turned out the same.

"I couldn't trust people or I trusted them too much. I didn't like being responsible for my life but I resented the authority I'd picked to run it. Reality gave me a terrible time; I preferred to see things as I wished they were. I didn't do well with intimacy, either; it demanded an authenticity that seemed beyond me. My self-esteem was abysmally low, my immaturity level high. I couldn't say no to anyone. I couldn't say yes to myself.

"Now I'm beginning again, this time as an adult with two children of my own. Always before I have been the child, insisting on absolutes, demanding reparations. Well, no more. That luxury, and torment, is over. I know too much. Black and white are seldom the colors in this grown-up universe.

"My father is neither the splendid golden-haired Marine with rosy cheeks and a shy sweetness in his smile whom I worshipped nor the brutish, despotic monster whom I despised. He is a flawed and unhappy man of many confusions and some strengths. He tyrannized me for ten years, holding fiercely to his narrow rationalizations, adamantly refusing to see the damage he was doing me. It took moral weakness of an extreme sort for him to exercise his destructive will so consistently for so long. But recently, and in public, he took responsibility for violation of me, and that took extraordinary courage...

"I've learned a great deal by telling my story. I hope other incest victims may experience a

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