A Poetic Look at Our Struggle to Evolve

Littoral Zone, by Barbara Branch Bates, is concerned with displaced peoples—strong women, Native Americans—and how they’ve ruled the world and haven’t, and how our present is ruled by the past. Many of the poems appear to be inspired by Robert Grave’s The White Goddess, in which Graves posited a takeover of human culture and civilization by men. This was portrayed by many of the Greek myths, in which women, from whom the men seized power, were demonized. One such story is Perseus and Medusa, referenced in this collection in the line “but that was before Perseus scattered you into the centuries.” Which happened “long, long ago,” a phrase that titles a poem about female power in many cultures and eras and also titles a part of the book that deals with the vestiges of women’s social power retained in spite of what’s been seized by males.

“Lost Harvest” titles a part of the book and has a similar theme, that of the takeover of the native peoples of America by the (male) European conquerors. Here again, the conquered people survive in spite of their loss. Like women, they are celebrated in these poems. Like the crow—which has a similar place in African American legend—the Native American keeps a low profile, and so endures: Littoral Zone, honors the (enduring) power of those who have been (temporarily) eclipsed by European male culture.

The past is almost always present in these poems, especially in the section titled “Looking Back,” and particularly in the poems “Resurrecting the Dead” and “At the Swap Meet.” “The Cradle” talks about a fragile but enduring distaff-side artifact in one time zone and a fragile but enduring cradle of civilization. May that civilization continue to survive in spite of the best and worst efforts of (once again) warring men.

Barbara Branch Bates grew up in the western states and graduated from the University of California at Berkeley. She lives in Santa Barbara, California. She says her writing is inspired by history and anthropology, including the works of Frazer and Graves, Levi-Strauss and Malinowski, as well as the Greek classics, the works of Dante and Rilke, and Native American lore.

Littoral Zone
Barbara Branch Bates
ISBN 1-56474-441-8
96 pages, paperback, $12.00

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