Some poets and poems to enjoy on International Women’s Day 2021

I could spend days recommending favourite poets and specific poems and still not get to the bottom of my list but here are some of my favourites. Some are poems that have lived and grown with me over many years while others are much newer discoveries. Enjoy!

‘It doesn’t matter’ by Imtiaz Dharker: one of so many of the poems in her brilliant collection Over the Moon (Bloodaxe, 2014) in which Dharker points to the preciousness of time spent with someone you love: ‘We are sharing/ a slice of time, time held up/for us.’

Sky Birth’ by Liz Berry: the primæval/otherworldliness of giving birth and the bond between mother and newborn is writ large in this piece: ‘I cried out but the gale swallowed it and sang back my name/until everything was burning’. Fury, pain, wonder, sacrifice, love and euphoria are all here in this tour-de-force. Even more magnificent if you can hear Liz Berry perform it. The poem comes from the passport sized The Republic of Motherhood collection (Chatto, 2018) Here is a link to Liz Berry reading the collection’s title poem: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eDyvUDZPyL0

‘Origin Myths’ by Nina Mingya Powles from Magnolia, 木蘭 (Nine Arches Press, 2020) is a new discovery for me This split-form poem, like many in her first collection, explores questions of language and identity, often answering them with intriguing abstract responses:

            What does this country mean to you?                                   (I embroider volcanoes onto horizons)

            Is this your home?                                                                  (I stitch my name into the sea)

            What is the purpose of your visit today?                               (I measure the distance)

Here’s a link to Powles’ recent Nine Arches collection launch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jWL2mfEjHHQ

‘simple tings’ by Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze (from Riddym Ravings and other poems, Race Today, 1988) is another poem I heard before I read it. Very quickly, it became a poem that I always try to share with writers young and old. Listen to it at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0169f2m So much is compressed into its eighteen short lines. I love its deceptive simplicity, Breeze’s use of rhyme, the fact it is dedicated to ‘Miss Adyln and Aunt Vida’ and the rocking rhythms of a woman’s life, her life story captured through the actions:

she rocked the rhythms in her chair

brushed a hand across her hair

miles of travel in her stare

 ‘What the Pool said, On Midsummer’s Day by Liz Lochhead (from Dreaming Frankenstein, Polygon Books, 1984) is such a luscious, sexy poem. The way the pool tempts and entices people into it on a hot day and the sounds it uses are delicious. I was lucky enough to hear Liz Lochhead read this poem when I was on an Arvon Writing course at Lumb Bank many years ago. I heard her words before I saw them written on the page. You can listen to it here. That pool’s calling and Lochhead’s marvellous alliterative use of zs has always stuck with me:

On-the-brink man, you

wish I’d flash and dazzle again.

You’d make a fetish of .zazzing dragonflies?

‘Another You’ by Kathleen Jamie: very few poems make me weep but this one gets me every time. The mention of the Seekers’ song I’ll Never Find Another You takes me back to my own childhood, and listening to the radio in a cosy room. This poem from The Bonniest Companie (Picador, 2015) aches for her late mother, ‘grey school jerseys purled/onto your lap’ and charts the increasing distance between them as the poet grows up, leaving behind ‘the florid pinafore I wore, /but once’.

April Sunshine’ by Jackie Kay (from Bantam, Picador, 2017) is my final choice. It lovingly captures the poet’s fierce pride and admiration for her parents, ‘people who have lived all their lives, /For democracy, for democracy’ and marks an occasion, ‘a blessing’, when they were able to enjoy April sunshine once more after a hard winter in hospital. Sadly Jackie’s parents have both died in recent years but they live on in her stirring words: https://homemcr.org/media/jackie-kay-reads-april-sunshine/

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