Wild Women in Art, Poetry and Community featuring Gretchen Del Rio’s Art and Victoria Bennett’s “The Howl or How Wild Women Press Came to Be”
Spirit of the Wolf
‘The spirit of the wolf resides in my heart
Mostly peacefully, but ever wild
Running in time to the blowing wind,
Dancing in the clouds that drift in the heavens
The spirit of the wolf resides in my soul.”
– Gretchen Del Rio
The Howl or How Wild Women Press Came to Be
by Victoria Bennett
At twenty-six, I met an owl. It turned out to be one of the axis moments on which my life pivoted. It was a cold January day where frost lingered in the shade but the sun was shining, the kind of day where things seems possible because you have survived the darkness of winter. The trees stood bare of leaves, branch-fingers stretched out expectantly, waiting for Spring. I was waiting too, holding a sense of change quietly behind my eyes. I watched the crows fly, black wings against blue sky, looking for carrion, listened only to the sound of water and wind and some crow caw above. This was what I was trying to remember – the feel of my touch, the scent of the sky, the hopeful warmth of sun just after the midwinter. My life had become so much darkness, so much noise and pollution and not seeing. This was the counterbalance and so far, it was working. Slow, slow days, allowing the words to surface and sound and where words could not come, allowing the brush to paint or the body to move. All was changing. I was changing. The woman I was underneath was beginning to take shape, and to my surprise, I liked her.
But first, the owl. I was stood beside the ash, eyes closed, when I heard a scratch from above. I opened my eyes and saw the owl, white feathers thick for winter, watching me. Awake. Not daring to move, I simply looked and allowed it to look at me, until after a few moments, it flew away. The owl came, and I was listening because I was ready to hear, and I was ready, it seemed, to shift shape again.
One week after the owl and I met, I had a dream. In this dream, I was with a woman walking along the river. She told me I was to call the Wild Women together. This did not seem strange or unusually prophetic. I had found a deep resonance with the stories I had found in the Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ book Women Who Run with the Wolves and so the archetype of the Wild Woman was something I was familiar with, but the sense of purpose was surprising, and so, the next morning I got up and started to write the posters for what was to be the very first of the Wild Women workshops.
Six weeks later, I stood in my living room, the fire in the stove burning and the tea hot in the pot. Before me sat twelve women, very different in ages and styles, but all sharing something special: they had all responded to the call. And so it came to be, the Wild Women group was born and I was to be their mother-wolf for this journey. As I stood there, faced with women whose individual and collective ages outstripped my own, I felt petrified. Who was I to stand here and say “this is the way of being woman”? Yet, that is exactly what I was to do. I did not know where it would take us, take me. I was just willing to begin, brave enough to speak out and hopeful enough to believe.
… and in that one word, I started something that would sustain me through my twenties, thirties and into my forties. I had met my clan. Together, we found the courage to stand up and say, “This is who I am…”.
That was nearly twenty years ago. Since then, working with the Wild Women, I have gone on to set up Wild Women Press, published several books of poetry from the group, worked with over 2000 women (and some brave men) on a number of amazing projects, hosted the (in)famous Wild Women Salons, made creative connections around the globe, and performed live at events around the UK and USA. It is a space of celebration and activism. There is no business plan or professional career path. It can lie dormant, hibernating as we nuzzle down and grow our ideas in the dark, or it can awake with passion and create for change on a global scale. We have used our creativity to create positive change, to be part of the world we want to live in andleave for those who follow. Sometimes we act on a very local level, sometimes on a global one.
Recently, I have been collaborating with the creators of the #MeToo poetry anthology. This is a very important movement for me personally, and for us as a group. As soon as I heard Deborah Alma was wanting to put together an anthology of poems from this movement, I offered my support, and the platform of Wild Women Press. It was obvious from the very beginning that there would be many more poems than there were pages in the book, and so #UsTogether was created, to give a platform for some of these other voices. Alongside the launch of the book, Wild Women Press are hosting a selection of these poems, in honour and celebration of the courage and sisterhood of all those who have spoken out as part of the #MeToo movement.
One of the core aspects of the group is the respect and celebration of each individual woman. Although in the beginning it was me who stood at the front of the room, every woman in the group was to go on to inspire and lead, using their own experiences, passions, talents, and knowledge to guide them in how they would to do that. In a similar vein, we will be launching an online Wild Women Press blog later in 2018, sharing our ideas and perspectives. Over the next year, we will be gathering Wild Women from around the globe to contribute, extending our circle of clan further. We would love to hear from other women, who would like to be part of a clan of contributors. If you are passionate about something, and would like to be part of a global group of Wild Women writing, creating, and being part of a positive change, please do get in touch.
In 2019, it will be our 20th Anniversary, and 20 years since we published our first book, Howl at the Moon: Writings By Wild Women. To celebrate this, we will be publishing a new book of poems by Wild Women – and this time, we are extending the howl out to others. We will be putting out the call for submissions soon, on our website, Twitter, and Facebook page.
For now, we continue to meet as a group every couple of months, and once a year, we spend four days at our Wild Women Gathering, celebrating, creating, and sharing our stories (and eating way too much food). We have witnessed births, marriages, divorces, unemployment, career changes, graduations, new beginnings, and painful goodbyes. What began as a workshop group, has become a place we now call home, and a wild family. You can sometimes find us on the fells or beside fires. We howl often, laugh lots, and when prompted, bare our teeth. Our coats are all a little more silver, and our eyes a little more wise, but we are still discovering. We are the Wild Women, and we welcome you.
Founder, Wild Women Press
© 2018, “The Howl or How Wild Women Press Came to Be” and the wild-women word-heart illustration, Victoria Bennett, All rights reserved; 2011 and 2018, water color paintings, Gretchen Del Rio, All rights reserved
VICTORIA BENNET (Wild Woman Press) is an award-winning poet, creative activist and full-time home-educating Wild Mama to her son, Django. Originating from the borderlands below Scotland, she is the Founder of Wild Women Press and has spent the last quarter of a century instigating creative experiences in her community. Her poetry has appeared in print, online and even in the popular video game, Minecraft. She has published four collections and performed live across the UK, from Glastonbury Festival to a Franciscan Convent.
Poetry publications include:
Anchoring the Light
Byron Makes His Bed
My Mother’s House – a Poetry & Minecraft Collaboration with Adam Clarke, that explores grief and letting go
What We Now Know – digital VR music collaboration with Adam Clarke and The Bookshop Band, inspired by the #MeToo anthology
© Gretchen Del Rio
HER POWER LEAPS
returned to bite through the umbilical of tradition,
to flick her tongue
and cut loose the animus-god of our parents,
like a panther she roams the earth, she is eve wild in the night,
freeing minds from hard shells
and hearts from the confines of their cages,
she’s entwined in the woodlands of our psyches
and offers her silken locks to the sacred forests of our souls ~
naked but for her righteousness,
she stands in primal light,
in the untrammeled river of dreams
the yin to balance yang
the cup of peace to uncross the swords of war ~
through the eons she’s been waiting for her time
her quiet numinosity hiding in the phenomenal world,
in the cyclical renewal of mother earth,
whispering to us in the silver intuition of grandmother moon
watching us as the loving vigilance of a warming sun ~
she, omen of peace birthed out of the dark,
even as tradition tries to block her return,
her power leaps from the cleavage of time
© Jamie Dedes
Illustration ~ the lovely watercolor painting by Gretchen Del Rio with its girl-tree, panther and other spirit animals was the inspiration for my poem, Her Power Leaps, on the return of the divine feminine. The back-story on the painting is interesting. Gretchen says, “I painted this for a fourteen year old Navaho girl. It is for her protection and her power. She sees auras and is very disturbed by this. She is just amazing. Beauty beyond any words. You can see into the soul of the universe when you look at her eyes. She has no idea. I loved her the moment I saw her. My blessings for her well being are woven into the art.” Such a delightful piece. I purposely posted it full-size so that everyone can enjoy the detail. Bravo, Gretchen, and thank you. / Jamie Dedes
©2011, water color painting; Gretchen Del Rio, All rights reserved; 2016, poem, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved.
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