This powerful anthology of poems has gained new resonance and purpose with the murder of Sarah Everard and the police response to a vigil held in her memory. It is a witness to the courage and strength of women who are speaking out against violence and intimidation. It harks back to Maya Angelou’s ‘And Still I Rise’ and reaches forward to a new era when women’s voices are heard and respected.
Particularly pertinent are the poems which explore the ways in which women’s lives are circumscribed by an implicit sense of threat: ‘you think / you are being followed / and you pick up speed’ (Meg Cox). Familiar routes are charted: 'There’s the “Cheer up Love it Might Never Happen” Spot,' 'Here’s the “Avoid At All Costs” / Underpass' and 'I still had to walk round / the block to make sure he didn’t know I lived here / on my ordinary street at the end of my ordinary walk home' (Emma Lee).
The anthology opens with the barely understood experiences of childhood, the ‘whispers of kids being “interfered with”’ (Angela Topping), the invitations to look for rabbits and lost dogs, and the ‘It’s just a game ... the girl who tolerates it the longest / is the winner’ (Sally Jenkinson). Frustration and anger are expressed at everyday abusive language, the ‘cocksure roar of boy used to his own way, / one more of the ones we warn each other about, / whose reputations we pass around like classroom / secrets’ (Jane Commane).
For some ‘all my stories [are] small / but always wary,’ the 'ground floor flat / a face at the window / no phone / no back door' (Amy Rainbow). But the most harrowing poems are gut wrenching and visceral, ‘Unwrapped / like a parcel of offal / slippery, coming / unstuck’ (Linda Goulden). Disturbing images stay in the mind, a child waiting for ‘the lock that unclicks, the coffining dark, the / hooded stranger with Papa’s voice, the makeshift bed’ (Pascale Petit). There are unanswerable questions: ‘What do you do when your child is born of rape?’ (Louisa Campbell).
But the sheer quality of the writing keeps the reader going. Anger invigorates the language. More reflective pieces are sensitive and nuanced, and flashes of dark humour lighten the tension. Many contributors are nationally and internationally published poets such as Pascale Petit, Helen Ivory, Helen Mort, Roz Goddard, Jacqueline Saphra, Kim Moore, Sabrina Mahfouz and Jane Commane. Others are just beginning to find their voices in writing. This anthology represents a place of safety where women can speak out without fear. As Deborah Alma writes, it is a call to action from a ‘pride of lionesses who learned to roar stories that choked us.’ It is a rallying cry of anger and impatience. ‘We stand together, each one a Spartaca / no longer silent or alone: each voice stronger, / massing, alive, a wild murmuration / of me too / me too / me too’ (Pippa Little).
Sue Mackrell’s poetry has been published online and in print anthologies and journals, most recently in Agenda Poetry, Ekphrastic Review, and Bloody Amazing (Dragon Yaffle 2020). She has an MA (Distinction) in Creative Writing from Loughborough University, where she was a part-time lecturer for several years. Now retired, she has taught and facilitated Creative Writing workshops in Higher and Further Education, schools, museums, art galleries, hospitals, and with ex offenders.
An earlier version of this review was published in Agenda Poetry Autumn 2019.