”I awake in the smell of his hair & cannot remember
his name, or my own.”
Diane Di Prima, An Exercise in Love
and strange and beautiful
something not everyone knows how to love.”
Warsan Shire, For women who are ‘difficult’ to love
”I knock back my dry spritzer take in the songs
of African birds, I think he had my hands, my father.”
Jackie Kay, Things Fall Apart
I co-founded Stirred to combat the issues that I have had growing up being a woman poet and finding my work devalued for that reason by myself and others to provide a space where other women feel their poetic voices can be heard away from competitive and aggressive performance experiences.
I spent my A Levels becoming rapidly disenchanted with English Literature as my syllabus fed me a constant diet of very dead white men. Tennyson, Coleridge I was becoming bored in the classroom when outside it I was starting to write and read poetry at a rapid rate. I was lucky to have a poetry loving family and devoured Plath, Gunn, and many more poets who hadn’t been dead for several hundred years. Poetry and writing in general was saving my life as it would continue to do but I couldn’t see how my work fitted in the poetry world at large.
I highly recommend the collection Scars Upon My Heart I had one enlightened English teacher who pressed us to read it, a collection of all the women’s poetry they could find from world war one some of it is poorly written, jingoistic or anti working class but a large amount is powerful some of them were nurses at the front. The more I have looked into any era or any art movement there have always been women involved and they get forgotten.
I went to university to study Creative Writing and wasn’t even aware that poets like me did any kind of readings or performance I thought only ‘’real published poets’’ with lecterns did that. Luckily I had a tutor who ran his own night and over the years performance has become a part of my practice and taught me to tune my poems for sound. Luckily there is no video of my early performances as it took me several years to be a competent performance poet.
Through the last six years of running Stirred we have committed to bringing the widest range of performers and poetry to our stage. In our workshops we have sought to introduce people to the most diverse groups of poets.
I whole heartedly believe in reading old poetry, ancient poetry, Sappho remains one of the most accomplished love poets and only fragments of work remain. However when all we have is the very traditional canon, a very narrow view of poetry, it is very hard for women to work out where our place is and what our voice is. The more you look the more you find everyone has always been writing poetry.
This is why when the National Poetry Day website published 12 postcards of poetry quotes on social media and there were only two women and everyone else was a long time dead white man I made a status about it on Facebook. A while later someone on my friends list who works in the office said they had read my status and were changing them, there are now 16 slides and the diversity is a bit better. I am glad I was able to make them make change and include Sappho and Maya Angelou and Plath. However this does show there is an issue that when people think poetry they are drawn to a narrow range of familiar names Wordsworth, Pope, Shakespeare. These are writers worth reading but my end thought would be, they are not the only poets.
I link here to some words by Audre Lorde who further expands on poetry being an art form for everyone.
‘’Of all the art forms, poetry is the most economical. It is the one which is the most secret, which requires the least physical labor, the least material, and the one which can be done between shifts, in the hospital pantry, on the subway, and on scraps of surplus paper. … poetry has been the major voice of poor, working class, and Colored women. A room of one’s own may be a necessity for writing prose, but so are reams of paper, a typewriter, and plenty of time.’’
Further reading on poetry foundation .org you can search for only female poets: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poets#page=1&gender=female
Anna Percy @AMDPPoet