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.
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
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
'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
slipping easily over paper
living in the twilight.
And so much loving and hating,
Packets of love and hate hastily doled out.
Virginia grasped it straight away
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
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,
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,
She saw the wreath on your hair,
the cold white flowers.
Leaving always leaving
impatient to be gone
The ink spilling
the curtains closed
impatient to be
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.
by Eliot North
My re-birth will eclipse
Mother’s funeral pyre;
Layers of self stripped
Back and light-bolted,
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.
by Ghada Al-Samman
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 …
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.