Letting Go With Myth and Poetry: Patricia Van Amburg

Patricia and I met when I worked as an adjunct writing instructor at Howard Community College in 2000. Since that time, we’ve become good friends while working on our poetry together and actings as guest or contributing editors for Little Patuxent Review.  Please check out the most recent issue of Little Patuxent Review and Patricia’s wonderful interview with poet Edgar Gabriel Silex. Thank you, Patricia, for this lovely post and for sharing your expertise about myth.

For the past several months, I have been guest editing the myth issue of the Little Patuxent Review at the same time that I have been reading posts about “holding on and letting go” in this blog—and thinking about ways that mythology does both.

Patricia VanAmburg
Patricia VanAmburg

My favorite female hero is the goddess Inanna of Sumer about 3,500 B.C.E. Like her more famous cousin Gilgamesh, Inanna travels a road that mythologist Joseph Campbell will later describe as “the hero’s journey.” While Gilgamesh treks the world seeking immortality, Inanna takes a more inward path seeking her greater Self. Ostensibly, she journeys to the underworld to pay her respects to her sister Ereshkigal whose husband, known only as the bull of heaven, has been slain by Gilgamesh. Ereshkigal’s identity is also a bit suspect as she may just be the dark side of Inanna. In any event, Inanna follows steps that Campbell identified as being those of the hero: answering a call, traversing boundaries, accepting trials, temptation and supernatural aid. At the gates of the underworld, Inanna must give up earthly attachment including jewels, garments—and even her skin.


Eventually, Inanna ascends back to the Great Above, as does her counterpart, Persephone, in the more familiar Greek myth of agricultural cycles and seasons. In that story, a young and naive Persephone is abducted into the underworld by Hades. Her mother Demeter, goddess of agriculture, searches her frantically while growth halts on the surface of earth. Eventually Zeus commands Persephone’s release so that Demeter can get back to the business of growing things. But Persephone has eaten three pomegranate seeds in the underworld, so must return to Hades for three months in the season of winter. As myths often do, this seasonal story wanders a bit to incorporate a theme of immortality when Demeter adopts a foster son during her frantic travels. The boy’s name is Demaphon; Demeter tries to make him immortal by dangling him over a sacred flame. As one would imagine, the child’s earthly mother has some problems with the procedure.

Persephone and Hades
Persephone and Hades

I would like to close this post with two poems. The first poem imagines holding on and letting go when two mothers struggle over the young Demaphon. And since I am writing this under a full December moon, the second is about the letting go that can happen at such a time. Winter moons have apt names like wolf or cold or hungry. The moon that heralds spring is sometimes called a worm moon in honor of turning the soil before planting. My favorites moons are balsamic. In astrology, that means they are less that 45 degrees behind the natal sun—moons of destiny, healing and rest—and the topic of my second poem.


Visions of Demeter dangling
darling Demaphon over fire
causes his startled mother
to lose her faith in the gods.

Metira’s startling lack of vision
causes disappointed Demeter
to turn her heel on earth and
lose her faith in humanity.

Envisioning mother burnout
human and divine
causes darling Demaphon
to lose his immortality;

A lovely vision in flame
Persephone awaits Demeter
eats three seeds and
forgets about spring.

Balsam Moon
Virgo Balsamic Moon 10/11/12 10.49pm ED

Balsam moon floating
in cruet of night
un-stoppered bottle
of branch silhouette
acidic only in vinegar
negative only in shadow box
of full, buoyant forgiveness
giveness of dark and trees
well of mercy and release
under a balsam moon.

Little Patuxent Review guest editor Patricia Jakovich VanAmburg has presented slide lectures on mythology for the 2014 Rep Stage production of Venus in Fur, the Howard Community College INSPIRES program on Cyprus, and the recent LPR salon Pulling Ariadne’s thread. She will be teaching a spring course on mythology for the Osher Program of Johns Hopkins University.

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