Jenny Mitchell

Jenny Mitchell

Jenny Mitchell is winner of the Ware Poetry Prize, the Folklore Prize, the Segora Prize, the Aryamati Prize, the Fosseway Prize, a Bread and Roses Award and joint winner of the Geoff Stevens Memorial Prize 2019. A best-selling debut collection, Her Lost Language, is one of 44 Poetry Books for 2019 (Poetry Wales). A second collection, Map of a Plantation, published by Indigo Dreams, has been shortlisted for the Poetry Book Awards.

Saturday, 20 November 2021 11:45

The Security Guard at Shopmore Says I Am A Thief

Published in Poetry

The Security Guard at Shopmore Says I Am A Thief

by Jenny Mitchell

Grabs me from behind, rams against my back,
eyes brimming from his lids, saliva next to drool,
except I stop, throw down my bags, tell him to search.

He plunges elbows deep; nothing has been stolen.
Still, he shouts, You’re a thief. I saw you yesterday.
My voice lies under his: How dare you put your hands on me?

He prowls to show his uniform has a cock inside.
There is rape, hard body says. You’re up against a wall.
I tell him to move back. He bawls: This woman is a thief.

My voice is a loud hailer: Liar. Don’t tell lies.
His voice is war: Call the police. We’ll have her sectioned.
Did I forget to say I’m black, four times as likely to be held?

Women trapped behind the tills, sleepwalking down the aisles
look up to watch my madness led away in chains.
Defy or Die my motto, I stand firm, demand that he apologises.

War looks down, offers me a cigarette – no word of a lie.
A pack of ten appears like a pipe of peace. He slurs, Sorry if…
I know it’s time to leave, fake smile a medal on my face:

Sorry is surrender in abuse. I swagger even though it’s false
to set off an alarm in war. He tries to show me rape again.
I dodge his growl, leave the battlefield. Cry on my way home.

Shortlisted for the Roger McGough Poetry Prize 2020 and first published in A Question of Identity, Arts Richmond.

 

Emancipating Ancestors
Monday, 23 August 2021 14:23

Emancipating Ancestors

Published in Poetry

Emancipating Ancestors
for all those who died on slave plantations

by Jenny Mitchell

I’ll free them all
by digging deep enough
to haul their battered bodies
from the years of disturbed soil.

As they emerge – some dark, some light –
I’ll gather every part:
the shattered bones
and ancient clothes,

the smell of monthly blood
I’m sure still flows
when women young
enough to breed are killed.

I’ll stroke their wasted skin
so like my own,
and cradle every one –
my arms that wide, that strong.

The love I have for them
will be a nursery rhyme
with hushing sounds,
and promises of home.

I’ll pull out all the leaves
lodged in their throats,
replace them with my words
to let them speak.

Or if repulsed by that well-meaning force,
they’re free to push my hand away.
I’ll understand the leaves
help ground lost voices.

Then I will sit a child again,
to breathe their wisdom and their weakness –
all the same if I dare open like a grave,
allowing them to seep so deep inside,
I’ll be reborn.

from Her Lost Language (Indigo Dreams Publishers)

 

Slave Trade, by George Morland
Sunday, 15 August 2021 13:21

Black Rapunzel

Published in Poetry

Black Rapunzel

by Jenny Mitchell

Family gathers in these plaits,
each parting like a grave
for people forced to work
the cane, colour of my scalp,
sun beating on their crowns.

I’ll twist the strands into a rope,
de-colonising hair, a diaspora
wending back to help
the ones in chains
escape the transatlantic.

Black Rapunzel, I’ll uncoil my locks
in prison yards, urge those on SUS
or sectioned, deep ancestor
voices trapped in too-loose plaits,
to shimmy over walls,

hide beneath my headwrap,
floral length of Africa before the trade.
I’ll carry them to safety,
woven in my braids. We’ll grieve
till loss flies out, unbound at last.

The Burden of Ownership
Tuesday, 15 September 2020 12:17

The Burden of Ownership

Published in Poetry

The Burden of Ownership

by Jenny Mitchell

He measures cost in body parts. A head pays
for a month of food; two eyes a week of drink.
Christmas adds a throat. Carved out with care
the neck still holds a yoke if the chin is firm
weight evenly proportioned.

Four breasts pay for his wife's new car, a mad
extravagance she must not think will be the norm.
Her furs demand a score of navels.
One manly chest is paid for every house –
he only wants the very best.

A waist is worth the price of land: an acre for two wombs.
Twelve manhoods buy a gushing stream
to serve his many fields. A sack of feet placed
in a bank account, maintains his balance
and the boast: he's always in the black.

Listen to Jenny reading the poem