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Women of Resistance: Poems For A New Feminism Eds. Danielle Barnhart & Iris Mahan (OR Books)

Women of Resistance: Poems For A New Feminism Eds. Danielle Barnhart & Iris Mahan (OR Books)

This anthology has a strong feminist ethos that cuts through race, gender identity and sexuality. The resistance in the title stems from the fight for agency through suffrage in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s election as US President. The editor’s note that ‘suffrage’ comes from Middle English, meaning intercessory prayer, and this informs their invocation of the other, encompassing transgender women, as well as its sense of grieving for the violence, rape and oppression of women. They affirm that womanhood is not limited to the biology of the female body and glory in work that occupies poetic space for all who fall in the category of the other within white patriarchy.

The first stanza of the opening poem, ‘A Woman’s Place’ by Denice Frohman sets the defiant tone:

i heard a woman becomes herself
the first time she speaks
without permission

Here women and others speak out and are not named and shamed into silence. Frohman’s poem ends:

if this poem is the only thing that survives
me
tell them I grew a new tongue
tell them I built a throne

tell them when we discovered life on another planet
it was a woman
& she built a bridge, not a border

got god & named gravity
after herself.

Many poems occupy the space of resistance, protest and survival, supporting stances for Planned Parenthood, Reproductive Rights, Black Lives Matter, Civil Rights, and other issues. There is also a strong sense of grieving for women that have unfairly lost their lives, as in Kaveh Akbar’s poem, ‘Heritage’, which commemorates the life of an Iranian woman hanged in 2014 for killing a man who was attempting to rape her. Akbar’s poem moves towards prayer and hope that God may ‘beat us awake’ and that we may ‘measure every victory / by the momentary absence of pain’.

Others have a more explorative, transformative and open edge. A prime example is Dorothea Lasky’s dense and suggestive poem, ‘The Secret Life of Mary Crow’. The poem works on several levels, positing a secret life as the place ‘where we are no longer us / But the beginning of things’, and sees the body as ‘corpse and text’ and also ‘a possibility’. The poem effectively enacts a series of losses, uncertainties and moves beyond grieving to another deeper place. I was also impressed by Jade Lascelles, poem, ‘This Is Why We Are Afraid’, a striking allegorical poem of quiet power and subtle depiction of young females under attack. The poem paints a broad canvass with its third section highlighting shades of blue revealed after fracture and when darkness becomes visible. The poem later highlights female resistance to male figures that are against nature and wild creatures: ‘Fragile containers at the whim and mercy of a flicking wrist.’

Several poems, such as Ada Limón’s ‘Service’, emphasise and enact the need for independent space, and locate a space for female survival, as in Safia Elhillo’s ‘After’, where ‘every day i go missing one eyelash at a time’. They work through implication and benefit from being less explicit. Similarly, Kimberly Johnson’s poem, ‘Female’, employs new urban words to offer a sense of an emergent female being transformed by ‘Secret, quaint horror’ and ‘betrayal of the flesh’.

This vibrant and dynamic anthology is far from being one-dimensional and has many fine poems to which I shall return.

The book comes with a cover blurb by Eileen Myles. Amongst the contributors are new writers, academics and established voices such as Kim Addonizio, Jericho Brown, Kwame Dawes, Karyna McGlynn, Mary Ruefle and Anne Waldman.

http://www.orbooks.com/catalog/women-of-resistance/?utm_source=Tears%20in%20the%20Fence&utm_medium=review&utm_campaign=womenofresistance

David Caddy March 13th 2018

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