Friday, October 18, 2013

Elsa Gidlow - "Poet Warrior"

Photograph © Chris Patton 2008

One of Ella Young's dearest friends in California was, as Ella named her, "the Poet Warrior," Elsa Gidlow.  In 1956 Elsa moved to a wild bit of land near the sea in Marin County, created a home for herself with a thriving garden. Druid Heights became a gathering place for San Francisco's literary and spiritual groundbreakers, such as Kenneth Rexroth and Alan Watts. The wheel turns for now as Monterey Peninsula College's archivist I have discovered that both these men spoke on campus in those early years. Connections! Many others found a sanctuary with Elsa, including Catherine A. MacKinnon, an important pioneer of feminist theory and poet Gary Snyder.

Here are three of Elsa's poems. Elsa Gidlow's poetry gave words to feelings where there had been none before. She wrote of the love of women for women and how that love was reflected in women's deep connection to the earth. The last poem I include here is "Eyes" and was written the year my daughter was born - Connections!

Grey Morning (1931)

It is morning and I am still.
My heart is still as grey water;
The cry of my love is still.

Over me is the sky like ash.
With cold eyes I look on the day;
Desireless, listen to waking day.

If my love were here I would not touch
Nor look at her: I would say:
"What is life but a noise between silences,"

A cry out of the mouth of space,
the falling echo of an echo
That soon shall sound no more."

Region of No Birds (1958)

Where the earth groans with earthquake
I know you,
Where the waters boil black
And the dragons are
You are immersed in me.
Beyond pleasure, where terror is kissed
And the small I's die.

In that region of no birds
One does not speak prettily of love.

Eyes (1968)

My mother said
of her mother:
Her eyes are
Like bees' backs.

My mother's eyes:
Speckled pebbles
In swift-running

At the mirror
Observing my own;
Just eyes.

What my daughter
Would have seen
If I had had one.


  1. Apparently Druid Heights was named as a nod to Ella! (Wikipedia) I spent some happy days of my youth there, and I learned about Ella upon reading of that connection. Very lucky for me!

  2. Very lucky, indeed. Ella and Elsa - two remarkable women. I can imagine many amazing conversations between them.