‘Poetry has become divorced from our lives. We no longer feel part of the great oral and written tradition of myths and legends in which so many things were once protected and preserved. Nothing protects us, our minds, bodies and spirits are freely raped in the age of atomic suicide. The eternal truths of language have given way to momentary flickerings on a video tape.’
Fan Viner of The Raving Beauties
Who knew that a surreptitious browse along the bookshelves of a local St Christopher’s Hospice Charity Shop (all such browses are surreptitious these days – Turner-George Towers is already a veritable and unreasonable bochord, and a stand-off concerning Extra Shelves threatens marital discord) would proffer a gem such as this? That is the gift of buying books from charity shops, other than the whole save-money-whilst-recycling-and-funding-charities-which-successive-governments-underfund-(probably-cos-they-know-booknerds-will-always-drop-them-dollar-for-a-few-paperbacks-oh-dear-maybe-we-are-part-of-the-problem) trip: the unknown possibilities nestled between multiple copies of Fifty Shades of Grey, that may prove to be unusual and neglected treasures forever unfound on any Waterstones table top selection.
In the Pink started life as a theatrical programme of songs and female-scribed poetry curated and performed by The Raving Beauties – Sue Jones-Davies, Fan Viner and Dee Orr. After being triumphantly broadcast on the opening night of Channel 4, two thousand viewers queried where they could find the poems, prompting the publication of this collection. Oh, for those pre- Big Brother days of quality television programming and sophisticated audience engagement!
These poems, from voices as familiar as Plath and lesser known as Alta (Gerrey – she’s far too magnificent to bother with a surname), navigate the perils of female experience between childhood and old age – including the quotidian sexual politics inherent in our relationships, experience of motherhood, work and ageing; and those uninvited monsters of rape, baby loss, and domestic violence. In their inspirational introduction, the Raving Beauties are candid about their mission to share the poems which nourished their own lives: ‘women’s poetry has introduced…more immediate, mundane metaphors for the bitter sweet life, in which sex can condemn as cruelly as time.’
Almost 40 years on, some may argue that these poems are too narrow in scope – Western-centric in neglecting the challenges faced by women beyond our shores, for example. But still, In The Pink presents so many nuggets of truth that it reads like a support manual for Womanhood, as if someone had compressed those illuminating, life-affirming chinwags that we’ve all had in the ladies’ loo at 2am on a night out (‘he’s mugging you off babe you can go it alone, hold my hair I just want to be sick in this sink’) into one slim paperback.
In the Pink was published when I was three, and I’ve needed it on many occasions before it found its way to me in my late-30s: to hear Marge Piercy perfectly articulate that sense of ever-threatening and ever-unpunished male violence that has pursued me since gran told pre-schooler Turner to ‘kick strange men in the balls! in the balls Bron!!’ (‘Fear of rape is a cold wind blowing all of the time on a woman’s hunched back’ – Rape Poem); to share with Alison Fell the ‘joys’ of the monthly PMT that has plagued anyone within my three mile radius since the early 90s (‘I am a plougher of men on the packed pavements, greasy, snarling, ready to flail’ – Period Madness); to be encouraged by Erica Jong that as a new homeowner I could be a feminist and enjoy homemaking (‘I am woman enough to love the kneading of bread as much as the feel of typewriter keys under my fingers’ – Woman Enough); to laugh with Barbara A Zanditon as I progressed my thirties and ditched the thongs (‘I’m over thirty. Time to spread out. Get comfortable’); to be reassured by Lucille Clifton that it was perfectly reasonable to talk to my miscarried first child long after their spark of life had passed (‘if I am ever less than a mountain for your definite brothers and sisters, let the rivers pour over my head…for your never named sake’ – The Lost Baby Poem); and to demystify the magical power of a child’s love with Alta (‘i wake feeling your hand patting mine, you on tip toes to see me in bed – hi mommy – & you have taught me: love can grow. day. by day’). Thank you flyyy gurls, but where have you been?
As I considered the new territories that poets must tackle to support today’s toddlers into girl and womanhood – social media distorting the perspectives of young minds; omnipresent and free porn screwing the expectations of young relationships; and wife-bashers, pussy-grabbers, and general far-right BSers in high office ravaging our hard-won gains – I reflected: so many battles won over the past four decades, so many new battles popping up like those fricking copies of Fifty Shades of Grey in charity shops over the land. Because, Sistas (and bruvlas), the war ain’t over. Sometimes, I think it’s barely begun.
For My ‘Apolitical’ Sisters (Aspen)
i am so hostile you say
when i struggle to break my chains
i am so extreme you say
when i say all women are oppressed
i am unrealistic and impractical, even mad you say
when i say we must consciously refuse to take care of men
i have become so political you say…
sister, i’ve got news for you:
your ‘inactivity’ is also a political statement…
oppression is not a choice
or just the misfortune of the socially deprived
no woman has escaped
sexism falls like quiet rain
constantly, softly seeping in
until we all become saturated
and it gently, ever so gently
so we hardly notice
does us terrible violence,
the ice forms, moulding us into
a shape uncannily uniform, uncannily
suitable for men.
oppression is not a choice, to fight it IS
we must stir the springs of liquid fire
in every woman, every child,
flames to burn the last wail of male arrogance
from our minds and hearts and bodies.
when you nurture his ego, offer your body,
wash his socks, raise his children,
you are being a political activist too.
Excerpt from Monster (Robin Morgan)
I want a women’s revolution like a lover.
I lust for it, I want so much this freedom,
this end to struggle and fear and lies
we all exhale, that I could die just
with the passionate uttering of that desire.
Just once in this my only lifetime to dance
all alone and bare on a high cliff under cypress trees
with no fear of where I place my feet.
To even glimpse what I might have been and never never
will become, had I not had to ‘waste my life’ fighting
for what my lack of freedom keeps me from glimpsing.
Those who abhor violence refuse to admit they are already
experiencing it, committing it.
Those who lie in the arms of the ‘individual solution’,
the ‘private Odyssey’, the ‘personal growth’,
are the most conformist of all,
because to admit suffering is to begin
the creation of freedom.
Those who fear dying refuse to admit they are already dead.
Well, I am dying, suffocating from this hopelessness
from this dead weight of struggling with
even those few men I love and care less about
each day they kill me:
Do you understand? Dying.