Women who write: why feminism needs poetry

By Chloe Scaling

I would argue that, in a society where most of the poetry we are introduced to in school is written by men who are long since deceased, the act of simply being a female poet is feminist. Perhaps we read some Carol Ann Duffy and/or Christina Rosetti, but how many more female poets can you remember from GCSE English? As a feminist, whether it’s for my Theology degree, non-fiction for general interest, fiction or poetry, I try to read more work by women.

A few years ago, I stumbled across a series on BBC iPlayer called ‘Women Who Spit’: five pieces of spoken word performed by young women. It was a revelation to my Sixth-Form self. Women writing and performing poetry about issues around gender and class. Women who were angry. Women who weren’t just speaking their poems, they were shouting them.

For me, poetry is already an emotive art form, which can be used to express anything on the scale of emotions from joy and elation, through to despair, anger and disappointment. Though it may be steeped in metaphor, it can be used to get a direct message across to audiences or readers. For feminists, these two aspects of poetry can make it incredibly useful for sharing ideas. I’ve read poetry which has made me angry about issues about I hadn’t thought about before and poems which have brought me close to tears. Whilst the ‘Women Who Spit’ series didn’t make me cry, it captured a variety of emotions and brought a range of issues to the fore.

Jemima Foxtrot spoke and sang about the pressure for women to look a certain way, despite strong feminist convictions. She used her platform to encourage other young women to try to concentrate on having fun rather than fixating on everything society says is wrong with their bodies. It is a message we should all be reminded of, regardless of gender. Foxtrot’s use of song throughout the poem harks back to the start of the piece, where she talks about listening to female singers and not knowing what they looked like. The mix may seem odd on paper, but the unconventional style makes ‘Mirror’ all the more memorable.

Vanessa Kisuule’s ‘Take Up Space’ told women to do just that: to take up space without asking permission. It’s an empowering piece which highlights that we all have a right to be who we are and exist in the world. Kisuule tells us we can be louder and more confident. She encourages women to exist unapologetically. ‘Take Up Space’ is not the rant you might expect when you hear the words ‘feminist’ and ‘poetry’ together. Rather, it is a positive message for individuals to take on.

The third piece I want to highlight from the series is Megan Beech’s ‘Broader Broadcasting Corporation’. This must be the poem I listened to the most and the feminist issue which has been most pertinent to me since its release. It calls out the media, in particular, the BBC (note the intentional title) to include more women. Beech’s poem taught me that this was an issue I was allowed to be concerned about, one we should be talking about because it just won’t go away.

Whatever your gender, race or class, please be encouraged that you can write poetry and you can write about issues you care about. Find a blank page and fill it with your rage, your hope, your dreams and your fears. Find your voice and take up space.

Illustration: Holly Murphy

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