Sheree Mack

Sheree Mack

Dr. Sheree Mack is a writer and artist, with expertise in Black British Women's Poetry. She's currently working on a creative non-fiction novel as well as a poetry collection about Rewilding.

Pardon
Wednesday, 02 August 2017 06:00

Pardon

Published in Poetry

Pardon

by Sheree Mack

The story of Sarah Baartman is the story of the African people....It is the story of the loss of our ancient freedom...(and) of our reduction to the state of objects who could be owned, used and discarded by others - Thabo Mbeki, 2002.

Pardon I human

is what she says
when they cage her like an animal
when they put her on the stage
and when they throw abuse her way.

Pardon I human

is what she says
when she is told to walk up and down
when she is forced to parade her wares
and when they ask her to smile.

Pardon I human

is what she says
when she sees their curiosity
when she sees their fear,
and when it spills out into
the room like dis-ease.

Pardon I human

is what she says
when he pokes her with his cane,
when she pinches her cheeks
and when he asks is all this junk real.

Pardon I human

is what she says
when she sees their disgust
when they make her the 'other'
and when they call her a freak.

Pardon I human

is what she says
when they pull back her apron
when she hears all sorts of cries and jeers
when they peer deep inside

Pardon I human

is what she says
when she signed the contract
when he promised her half of the takings
when he promised to return her home.

Pardon I human

is what she says
when she burns to see the veld again
when dark beady eyes surround her
and when the ugly voices get excited.

Pardon I human

is what she would have said, if she could,
when they waxed her skin
when they fossilized her genitals
and when they pickled her brain.

And when they put her body parts on display in a museum
when for years to come, she continued to be
a freak show in death as she was in life.

Pardon I human.


Sarah Baartman (before 1790 – 29 December 1815) was exhibited as a freak show attraction in 19th century Europe under the name Hottentot Venus.

Hear my roar and hear my howl: poems and prose for International Women's Day 2017
Monday, 06 March 2017 16:45

Hear my roar and hear my howl: poems and prose for International Women's Day 2017

Published in Poetry

If you are silent about your pain, they will kill you and say you enjoyed it.

-  Zora Neale Hurston

SM piece

When Freya Comes to Call

by Sheree Mack

Friday, she parks her chariot,
pulled by two black cats,
behind my Suzuki Splash,
and knocks at my door.
What will the neighbours think?

She stands there in all her glory;
long blond hair streaming over
a falcon-feathered cloak, wearing
nothing except an amber necklace.

Not even goosebumps.
She's sex on legs.
I daren't take her into the house.
Albert's in. He might not be able
to contain himself. So I keep it short.

What ya want?
Looking into her blue eyes, I recognise.
I'm pulled in. I hold my ground.
What ya want?

She smiles. All broad and teeth.
Not so much smug, more like
the cat that's had the cream,
cake and caviar.

I want you to be all of your parts, she says.

I notice number 22's blinds twitch.
What ya mean?
This Goddess might be able
to work her magic on men
but I'm not having it.

Then she touches me, gently.
Electricity surges through
her finger tips into me,
into my being.

A fire is lit inside my gut;
a mounting force.
I have to grab the doorframe
to steady myself.

I pull back. She's too much.
Too bold. Too in your face.
Be whole, she says. Open up to
your power. Breathe.

Her words echo within
my breathing, opening parts
I'd closed down and closed
off and kept in the dark.

Heat rises from my core.
Fiery light filters through my cracks.
All the time she holds my gaze.
And I hold hers. We're connected
and so very much alive.

I get an urge to moan and dance.
To howl and create.
With a nod she rides off.
Closing the door, I lean against it.

I take a deep breath.
I exhale through a slightly
open mouth. A smiling mouth,
like a cat in cream, cake and
caviar ecstasy.

 

SM MP piece Womens March VOA 03

Each time a woman stands up for herself, without knowing it possibly, without claiming it, she stands up for all women.

- Maya Angelou

Womens International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell, Chicago 1969
Monday, 06 March 2017 15:53

I'm still singing: poems for International Women's Day 2017

Published in Poetry

For International Women's Day we bring you a small selection of poems to mark the occasion. We have Catherine Graham, a West End of Newcastle poet born and bred, who takes pains to honour those women within her family who kept the home fires burning. They may be overlooked in the grand scheme of things, but these women are no less important to the fabric of society than powerful leaders of state. They are the leaders of our families and homes - that should never be forgotten.

Niveen Kassem generously offered up one of her poems as she continues to explores injustices and inequalities around the globe in her writings. Here she explores the increasingly important issue of women finding their true voices in a world where they are repeatedly told that they are worthless – that their voice does not count. There is hope here – there has to be hope as more women are choosing to go within, to find their authentic voices in order to join together and speak out, powerfully and truthfully.

Finally we have an inspirational poem from Wajid Hussain which takes in a meeting with the great and remarkable Maya Angelou. A role model of my own, I read this poem and rejoiced in its magic and power to capture the moment as well as take us forward with transcendent joy and the determination to make this world a better place.

We can do this together, for sure.

 

SM CG poem 2

Daughters of Tyne

by Catherine Graham

I

Martha's neddin’ bread rests
like a full moon on the scullery workbench,

the smell of warm dough
wafting along the passage to the end room

where Nancy keeps her savings
in a yellow-white chest of drawers.

She has no idea that every Monday,
my mother borrows a pound note,

promising herself she'll replace it by Friday,
before Nancy clocks off at the liver salts factory.

Many a time it's a photo finish between Nancy
getting off the bus and mam replacing the note.

By October, mother permitting,
there'll be enough for the wedding.

II

Edie has never married, never met
the man of her dreams, a man who

plays for United and bleeds black
and white. He has a quiff like Elvis

and a voice like Pat Boone: smokes filter tip
cigarettes. He is as hard as December

and gentle as July; slightly bow-legged
with a glint in his eye like Russ Conway.

If ever he swears he puts tuppence in the cuss box.
Romance is played down for love is

carrying the coal up three flights of stairs.
There will be two children, a boy

who can kick a ball like his father
and a girl who can kick even higher.

III

The women I grew up with had
tell it like it is voices. They favoured vowels,

vowels that flex mouths
like opera singers limbering up for an aria.

They made soup from bones and knitted
anything from booties to balaclavas.

Bless them, for they breastfed their babies
and had bairns vaccinated via sugar cubes.

The women I knew made their feelings known
in a clash of pans. Always there

at the school gates, their headscarves
blowing like flags in the biting northeasterly wind.

They believed in the Bible and best butter
and knew by heart, their Co-op dividend number.

From Things I Will Put In My Mother’s Pocket (Indigo Dreams, 2013)

I belong
Saturday, 21 January 2017 16:32

I belong

Published in Poetry

white privileges

upon a turquoise threshold
I hold on to you tighter
sensing shifts

I stroke these moments
of damaged velvet with
desperate need

hearing you breathe
no longer I and you
no longer black and white

I wish I could see
with your eyes
walk with your privileges

I swallow my words
like glass become tangled
in sheets of doubts

at the closed door
wondering the direction
the sun's rays will fall

I want a feeling of light
I want to be turned
on that pedestal

sheree mack poem

 

I belong. I have forgotten myself. I have forsaken myself; my voice, my love, my soul.

I have looked upon myself and found me wanting. I allowed those fears and doubts inside to marry up with those controlling critical voices outside. Together they solidified into a giant insurmountable wall around me; my voice, my truth, my soul.

And each day I added a brick into the wall. With each job and gig and publication I received based on some manufactured voice, l made the charade harder to let go. This voice, I became an expert in, as this voice fitted in, this voice was good enough for them.

This false voice was based on fear. Watered down and weak and accepted, keep-them-laughing-in-their-seats kind of voice.
But I'm here today, right now, telling you; all those fearful, doubting, critical, 'I'm not enough kind of voices', both internal amd external, to fuck right off.

I mean it. Fuck off. All you've done is silenced me, muzzled me, white-washed me. Turned me into a house nigger. Yes I'll be real good. I'll not speak or step out of line. Or be different.

I'll be good real good. I'll not do or say anything to make you feel uncomfortable. Do anything you want to me. Beat me. Humiliate me. Shame me. I'll just keep on smiling, good. Look at my teeth.

I've played my part so well that you don't have to police me any more. I've internalised all this hate that I police myself.

You can't curse nobody. Look at you. You black, you pore, you ugly, you a woman. Goddam, he say, you nothing at all.

- The Color Purple, Alice Walker.

Fuck 'em. You are not me. I am not my fears. I am not small and silent. I am not compliant. I am complicit no more.
I am a black woman from a rich ancestral lineage. I come from a people who fought and suffered and died so I could live. Deal with it.

I don't need your raggedy-arse fears and criticism and dirty looks. You said those things to keep me in my place. To keep me from fulling my full potential. My true potential.

It's over. You and all your cronies. The power you had over me is gone. I have seen the light. And I'd rather live my life my way. True to me.

I'm unique. There ain't ever gonna be anyone like me on this here earth again. So it's my birthright to live my life right by me. The real, authentic me. The whole me you've been trying desperately to keep in a box. The wild me you've tried to shame and silence.

You ain't gonna do that any more. I am my own queen, I have sovereignty. I have the power. Walk away now. Go on, fuck off.

You're not welcome around here anymore. You don't belong.

I belong.

I Want To Be The Light
Monday, 07 March 2016 20:27

I Want To Be The Light

Published in Poetry

In honour of International Women’s Day, I would like to share with you some new poetry that I have been writing which looks at women from the past, who I have a lot to be thankful for. I have also been exploring issues that women have to tackle day in and day out, not just within society at large but also within their own thoughts and feelings towards themselves.

The first poem is about my search for the foremother of Black British Women’s Poetry, Phillis Wheatley. An African slave educated in America, her collection of poetry was published in London in 1773, and called Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral.

they say she was an uncultivated barbarian

Art is not just for oneself, not just a marker
of one's own understanding. It is a map for
those who follow after us - Clarissa Pinkola Estes

Chapter 1

i look for you when i lecture in Boston
i walk the long avenue through budded
trees and snow unsure of my path
i need to see you
for myself     what is left of you
it's cold and bright     busy and noisy
i think the city is getting prepared
for their marathon

you are a memorial
poised in bronze  imagining the stars
you strike the pose i've seen many times
quill in right hand   left hand tucked
under chin   deep in thought

i advance close    look into your eyes
the eyes that claimed the authority
to see for yourself
but you   here   now   are   still
carved  in the way    they saw you
always having    to prove    your worth
prove your humanity

Chapter 3

i take your story like medicine
the facts are there
sometime in 1772
you  as the young African girl walk
into a room in Boston   Massachusetts
to undergo an examination
by (white) men of worth
merchants   governors   pastors

they give you permission to use
your voice    a voice already yours
i'm interested in    how you stand
are your hands begin your back
wringing within your lap
or sticking firmly to your hips

Chapter 5

long i stand in your radiance
this afternoon
my hand    on your hand
with the weight of history
against us   but i see you
i walk on     down the avenue
on my own terms.

 

Our Labour Saving Device

the lay sister sits by the open fire
knitting after another busy day
she longs for space to breathe
her clicking needles keep time with
the clock upon the mantel
and a barn owl swoops between the firs
as the new moon remains hidden
she longs for that moment of release
too old for use then she will take off
her stockings and run barefoot amongst
the fallen blossom    cool petals
clinging to damp flesh
and one heart beating just for her

(A lay sister is a woman who has taken religious vows and habit but is employed for manual labour and nothing else.)

 

Sometimes, women have a difficult time around their own and others' opinions towards their bodies. Self-hate, as well as trying to live up to unrealistic standards that are within the airbrushed media, puts serious pressure on women to fit ‘the standard’. Here I take a serious and not so serious look at my own body. Self-love is a practice, something we as women have to learn and keep re-learning.

i want to be the light

i will roll upwards towards the light
tilting my breasts out and up
pushing out my rounded stomach
i gain a stretch through my thighs
it takes me closer
i will not gather up my broad backside
and try to squeeze tight into a small space
that will never accommodate my size
i want to spread share my flesh
like the warmth touching me
as I arch my back hands behind my head
head turned towards the light opening
my body to the light
i want to be the light

 

On discovering my navel

Just the other day, I caught a glimpse
of it while getting out the bath. I almost
lost my balance as I was unsure what to make of it.

Even from that angle, I could tell it was deep,
a deep cavernous tunnel
burrowing through the centre of my being.
Almost like a gaping mouth forever

open as I clutched the billowing flesh
around it. I'll be honest with you,
I was quite perturbed by the whole affair.
And would you believe that I let out a cry

of Eureka. Yes quite definitely Eureka.
And then I proceeded to name it Norman.

 

In some societies marriage is still the only way out for woman. ‘Out’ being the optimum word as it can be argued in some cases, that this ‘out’ is from one restricted life into another. In the past a woman's worth was defined by her husband's status. Things are changing, but in some societies, a woman is still nothing without a man.

a wall of ocean between

she threw away the two person
turkey carcass that morning
as three waves thundered
their way over a tropical island

he spent the holidays
glued to news reports
how can you watch the destruction
i'm being a witness   he replied

upstairs she placed the red dress
and black heels into a Sainbury's
carrier bag    the whiff of vanilla
reminds her of their wedding

the warnings were there to see
just like the ocean quickly withdrew
from the shore    a curious sight
luring people closer

only to be left exposed
when the water returns
powers over their heads
tunnelling through their homes

she left him on the couch
absorbed in the spectacle
she heard later    more women
than men perished

women waiting on the beach
for their fishermen's return
ready to fillet the fish
ready to discard the bones

Phenomenal Woman, That's Me
Monday, 07 March 2016 09:19

Phenomenal Woman, That's Me

Published in Poetry

Sheree Mack, the poet mentioned by Andy Croft in his article on the privatisation of poetry, presents a selection of poems to mark International Women's Day.

Phenomenal Woman, That's Me

by Maya Angelou

‘Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I'm not cute or built to suit a fashion model's size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I'm telling lies.
I say,
It's in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I'm a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.’

International Women’s Day is the one day in the year when we actively mark, honour and celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievement of women around the world. Women contribute so much to the day to day working of this world that one day is hardly enough to recognise this. But it’s a start. And we may celebrate this day, but the fight to recognise and equally repay our debt to women in society is far from over. The move towards gender parity has slowed down.

‘The World Economic Forum predicted in 2014 that it would take until 2095 to achieve global gender parity. Then one year later in 2015, they estimated that a slowdown in the already glacial pace of progress meant the gender gap wouldn't close entirely until 2133: see http://www.internationalwomensday.com/Theme

So this year’s IWD campaign theme is #PledgeForParity. How will you mark the day? What will you do to help women advance equal to their numbers?
Visit the link above to pledge your action.

The first poem in my selection comes from Mark Smith who has been campaigning endlessly to support his friend, Aderonke. Aderonke fled to the UK, from her native Nigeria about a decade ago. She was sentenced to death there for being in a lesbian relationship and has witnessed terrible things there, including the murder of loved ones. Despite this, she has been a strong campaigner for LGBTQI rights and in recent times has been awarded the LGBT Positive Role Model National Diversity Award. In addition to this, Aderonke has for two years running been officially one of the 101 most influential people in Britain. She faces a continual struggle to remain in the UK, having lost numerous (and humiliating) court cases. I continue to share her petition, (which has many signatories) in the hope that she shall finally gain political asylum here. Mark’s poem is a mini-tribute to her.

 

An Ode to Aderonke

by Mark Smith

She has passion, love and resilience
though her life requires great persistence.

Fighting prejudices of intolerable measure
she still seeks out the joy of life’s treasures.

Having gained many supporters,
there is a lot she has taught us!

 

The next poem was generously given by Caroline Kemp, a woman who tirelessly provides a voice for people with mental illnesses through her university work, lectures, talks and poetry. The poem explores the difficulties faced by women wanting to write.

Poem for Katharine Mansfield

by Caroline Kemp

'Oh to be a writer, a real writer, given up to it and it alone'.

I see you as the middle child,
Unwilling             Willed out
No favourite        uncomfortable words
Family remarks
'I see you are still fat'
Restless little thundercloud.

And later grown taller
cello fingers head full of words
the river pulled you,
the pine forests called
sultry swooning heavy with heat
in stockings bodices petticoats arm shields and dress
hem lines water damp wet.
A cover of night stars
A morning of birdsong
breast high in the manuka trees,
mimosa clover lily of the valley
pausing in the moment with the giant horse fly
by the clear water.

Splashes splashes of light falling falling
falling through the trees

I dream of your pen tumbling
with ink
slipping easily over paper
feelings rushing
living in the twilight.

And so much loving and hating,
Packets of love and hate hastily doled out.
Virginia grasped it straight away
Lawrence's rainbow
The presence of those eyes,
the mocking lips,
a mask a ghost

I see you in Paris
a hat of cherries    a long cloak     a white fez
a turban over a bold red mouth.

Soon the bacillus would grow.
Pen teeming emotion
A garden party in your head.

Lies    Lies    Lies
How you loved them, breathed them....your truths.
Living a life of half made dreams....such dreams....
The black bird in the corner of your eyes
waiting to alight,
shadows racing across the sky
Grass of bluebells cuckoo song
afraid to stop or settle
quickly
footsteps hurrying on.

The ink spilling
'I feel I shall die soon but not of my lungs'
Your blood buzzing rushing
your heart full of bees....
These truths you told yourself ....

Too soon too soon the bacillus gathering,
growing.

The feeling of the closed door, the locked gate
the twilight, the leaves, the dust.

And at the end too soon too soon
Virginia would mourn
despite the words, the promises,
your miss.
She saw the wreath on your hair,
the cold white flowers.
Another dream....
Leaving always leaving
impatient to be gone
The ink spilling
Leaving leaving
the curtains closed
impatient to be
gone.

With thanks to Claire Tomalin for her fine biography 'A Secret Life'
And the diaries of Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield.

 

Catherine Graham wrote the next poem in response to hearing Lucia Matibenga’s story. Lucia Matibenga is a Zimbabwean politician working with the United Movement for Democratic Change.

Sticks and Stones

by Catherine Graham

Even though you beat me,
you cannot keep me under your table.

You beat me
to put me in my right place
as a woman. My right place is being free.

Free to fight for the right to speak out.
Speak out against injustice, inaction, poverty.

If you believe that pain will
make me put my hands over my mouth,
then you are misled.

I cup my hands up to my lips and drink
to Justice, Equality, Dignity.

For I do not fade like a bruise fades,
I heal like a broken bone.

from Things I Will Put In My Mother's Pocket (Indigo Dreams Publishing)

 

Eliot North submitted a poem in honour of IWD which is taken from a developing collection of poems called ‘Flora Speaks’, a working collaboration with Dr Henry Oakeley, Garden Fellow at the Royal College of Physicians. Henry’s book ‘Doctors in the Medicinal Garden’ has been source material throughout and this poem was inspired by ‘Asclepias tuberosa’ or ‘American Milkweed,’ named after Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine and son of Apollo.

Self-migration

by Eliot North

My re-birth will eclipse
Mother’s funeral pyre;

Layers of self stripped
Back and light-bolted,

Biology enhanced
With digital snips.

How I milked my host,
Poison sap to bone;

A snake wrapped around
The wooden staff of life.

You. Do not eat my hope.
These wings are poised

To visit Pine valleys
From Canada to Mexico.

I’ll overwinter there,
My undergarments spun

From the senses, coded
In silken memory.

 

Next up we have translations by Niveen Kassem of two poems by Ghada Al-Samman. Al-Samman is gaining an international reputation, as she continues to write controversially about the Arab world. A prolific writer, she isn’t afraid to speak out, documenting and sharing, in innovative ways, Middle Eastern life and suffering which mostly goes ignored.

Al-Samman's writing shows defiance and determination to challenge the status of women in traditional, patriarchal Arab society. The poems tackle gender inequality in all affairs of life. Taking women's emancipation to a higher level, the poems take off like spreading wings of thoughts, flying in our imaginations like liberated birds, escaping a tradition that enriches and nourishes gender inequality.

Two Poems

by Ghada Al-Samman

1.

Do not bless me coldly
kill me warmly
so we can be loyal for life

rather expiring together slowly
we become patriots in death.

Behold, I now open the box of sins

to recall my share of stars,
of flowers, butterflies and the lies;
I run from the orphanage of women
Who yield kindness and tearfulness

to where I can make my own seasons,
winds, forests and falcons
and demagnetizes my compass needle that leads
only to the directions of you …

2.

When met
the gypsy inside me suddenly wakes
from long slumber of social oppressions.

Nature had spoken,
her delicious river beckons:
‘Come and learn how to swim,’

breathe and your lungs filled with air.

And the wind assures:
‘I am the voice of the unexplored Continents,’

do you miss travelling there……

The Sun declares:
‘Avail the wisdom of birds,’

residing in the nest, a transient ritual.
Only aviation is the absolute truth.

 

The final poem included in this selection comes from Sue Spencer, a former Senior Lecturer of Nursing, now fighting hard to marry her writing and good health together. I think this poem illustrates well the lengths a woman has to go to in order to be true to herself, to be authentic at the same time as changing the world around her. Check out Sue’s blog, https://kindandcurious.wordpress.com/

Finding the path

by Sue Spencer

She thought that to be a trail blazer
you had to create an indelible course,
burning signs into the landscape.

Now she knows that the route
can be determined by subtle,
almost imperceptible chips in the bark.

The way ahead will then be there
for those that know what to look for,
those who can notice nuanced clues.

That way the tribe can grow slowly
and also they will get there in their own time.