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.
Daughters of Tyne
by Catherine Graham
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.
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.
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)
by Niveen Kassem
When young, they wanted her domesticated;
the quieter, the better.
Almost no need for her to have a voice;
‘Girls don’t speak loud’ she was told.
Her mother was like that.
She resented her own voice,
for it was more of animal
than human; they said.
She can’t be wild…
and she can’t be herself.
But she knows she is a goddess
with the power to recreate herself.
Hope is frail, to salvage a difficult birth.
Maya Angelou Uncaged Me Too
by Wajid Hussain
I remember her seated on the stage,
floral cotton dress, back
straight. She rose when introduced.
I remember her gliding to the podium,
and though I never sing, a song
rose in my throat.
I remember her smile buttoning me
to her words and me muttering,
“When did her dress become silk?"
I remember when Dave Chappelle
did a programme talking about the n-word,
and he went to Maya.
I remember his eyes determined
as he told her his opinion. Her smile
listening, she spoke with a satin echo,
I remember the sound of the spaces in between
her words, like warm petals, and Dave’s
mind changing on the screen.
I remember thinking, "Yes Mr. Chapelle,
That’s how Maya’s words uncaged me too,
and I’m still singing!"
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.