Friday, February 25, 2011

Liberation literature and women's writing

What is my daughter's future?
What do we admire in the literature of liberation and who are its loudest champions? I hear intellectuals elevating it again and for good reason - liberation from the state, class, economic repression, the individual at the heart of it, a hero.

And where does women's writing sit in the literature of liberation? It links democracies and oligarchies as well as distancing itself in the language it uses, the metaphorical landscape it paints. Liberation movements always create new aesthetics.

When I read poems of resistance, listen to the songs, I hear that the real struggles start in the home, classroom, workplace. They begin with how people treat one another, how they listen (or don't) to one another. They begin with how each of us feels taking the kids to school, growing vegetables, wandering into a cafe, cleaning the kitchen floor.

A woman, though, wherever she lives in the world is more likely to be paid less than a man, less likely to receive respect for her work. She is more likely to be beaten at home for just being a women. She is excluded from meetings, from stages, from newspapers and magazines by the very intellectuals who debate liberation theory because her language does not fit and her metaphors disgust or discomfort them.

Some of the so-called revolutionaries - in awe of revolutionaries of the past and worldwide - are actively resisting the most basic rules of freedom: equality at home, at school, at work...wherever people are because they do not want to hand over power to women. It is a theme some of the African continent's most impressive writers have focused on for years: Nawal El Saadawi, Buchi Emecheta, Mariama Ba, Ama Ata Aidoo. Equality means the same numbers of women on those stages, in those pages....etc etc

"Then that little man in black there, he says women can't have as much rights as men, because Christ wasn't a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Men had nothing to do with Him," said Sojourner Truth in 1851.

A new anthology of liberation writing by women in African countries was published last month. Domestic violence is a dominant theme in many of the stories, poems and essays - a landbridge if ever there was one to the UK and the US.

Abena P. A. Busia writes the introductory poem, “If we don’t tell our stories who will speak out for us, when we claim our bodies for ourselves and weep no more... If we don’t tell our stories, hailstones will continue to fall on our heads.”

African Women Writing Resistance An Anthology of Contemporary Voices published by Fahamu Books and Pambazuka Press.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Faces of women poets

Phillis Wheatley

Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz
Gwendolyn Brooks
Christina Rossetti

Faces of women poets are on my mind. The artist Jane Fordham revisits women's faces constantly. She goes back to icons, medieval madonnas and the vibrant faces of ancient Egypt looking straight at you from the past. Her work captures the essence of that direct, outward stare.

When Ros Barber sent me a preview of the website we're devising for women poets currently writing in the UK, I felt a similar impact.

There is no comprehensive list of women poets currently writing in the UK. There are lists based on quality judgements and prizes - all very limited. There are lists of women that others have decided to showcase in anthologies. But nothing based on simple facts: living/writing in the UK, alive, female.

So we began collecting names. Firstly from personal knowledge and our bookshelves, then from an email to people we knew, hoping it would become viral. It has. Most responses have been delighted, generous and helpful.

So we are building our wall of women's faces and those direct gazes assertive, engaged, will transmit the poetry being written today.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The swans of Littlehampton slipway

A bucket of fresh water is kept on Littlehampton harbour slipway for a pair of swans and their cygnets.
I was hanging out of the Look and Sea Centre window, waiting to start a workshop for teachers on myths, when this one wandered over for a drink.
I should have called everyone to the window when they arrived, to list swan stories: Leda, The Children of Lir, the Norse swans that drink from the Well of Urd, the Finnish swan of Tuonela (the underworld), their association with the goddess Saraswati, the legend of Odette, the swan of riddle seven in the Exeter Book.....
Apart from looking at Ted Hughes' Crow, we didn't spend a lot of time on birds but we did focus on childhood and places associated with home that carry their own mythical quality - places we link with death, threat, escape and people we remember:  eccentrics, the exceptionally kind, the odd and the damaged.
Kevin Crossley Holland's translation of The Exeter Book of Riddles was published by Enitharmon in 2008, Michael Alexander's Old English Riddles from the Exeter Book by Anvil in 2007. Both of them are small poetry presses with fantastic lists.
Da Vinci, Gericault and Michelangelo all painted Leda and the Swan. Da Vinci's preparation drawing is amazing but there's another painting by Jan Asselijn, The Threatened Swan, that shows the physical power of this bird and reminds me of watching a swan with cygnets seeing off a rottweiler by the Wey once. You can hear riddle seven read in old English on YouTube:

Monday, February 07, 2011

Funeral horses

One afternoon nearly two years ago, I heard horses outside my window and saw four of them being taken out of their harnesses after a funeral and loaded into a horsebox.
It's taken this long to write about them in a way I felt came close to the memory. It's not that unusual to see horses outside. Lewes Road ended up being the spur. A week or so after I finished it I was on my way to walk Roxy and saw another pair being loaded up. The feather-topped bridles are hanging from a hinge near the ramp.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

New butcher and grocer on Lewes Road

If I could have chosen a mentor I'd have gone for Walt Whitman, printer's devil, poet and just as Alan Ginsberg imagined him in the supermarket, I'd take him for a wander along Lewes Road.
I think Whitman would enjoy the renaissance of this polluted spar out of the city, lethal for cyclists especially in winter rush-hour rain.
At the junction of my hill a new butcher's is opening. The big white tiles are on the walls, the sign - meat and poultry - is on the front. A few doors along, a new multicultural grocer (their description) advertising halal meat, fruit and veg. There's a new internet cafe too.
Lewes Road seemed doomed when Tesco forced the closure of the community garden but then pulled out, leaving developers to a digger and impenetrable fence decorated with signs like 'children don't play here'.
But some of its renaissance must be down to a brilliant Turkish grocer that opened a few years ago, perhaps in the wake of Taj's success in town. Its olives, haloumi and bread are incomparable.
And new shops are opening around it with names to dream on: Wizard of Ink, Charisma, Fellas. As cash is squeezed, maybe we're going back to shopping locally and daily?