There has been a recent resurgence in interest in poetry and spoken word written and performed by women. Quite right. This collection puts together 150 poems by women writers, touching on themes from friendship to fashion, protest and resistance.
It’s a lively collection featuring poets you might be familiar with and those you might not. No collection of women poets would be complete without Maya Angelou (whose “Phenomenal Woman” is quoted on the back cover) and Emily Dickinson, represented here three times. Their poems are interspersed with new voices such as Remi Graves and Hollie McNish. Also impressive is the huge time period it crosses — from the ancient world right up to today — which gives an insight into change and continuity in women’s lives.
Sampson has also included neat biographies of each poet in the back of the book, making it a useful reference for further reading.
The book’s first section on roots and growing up is an enjoyable start. Syrian poet Amineh Abou Kerech’s short poem “To Make a Homeland” is a sad yet hopeful introduction to the young writer’s work. She was just 13 when she won the Betjeman Poetry Prize.
The chapter on courage, protest and resistance is a good one. Sampson rightly points out that for many women, the act of publishing poetry at all was an act of resistance in itself. The poets of the anti-slavery and civil rights movements are well represented. Stand out poems include Jan Dean’s tribute to Rosa Parks and — new to me — Frances Ellen Watkins Harper’s to Eliza Harris, the fugitive slave who escaped across the Ohio River. Also featured is “May 1915”, a First World War poem by Charlotte Mew. Its presence seeks to re-address a poetic remembrance dominated by male poets.
There is a lot of fun in here too. I loved the poems that gave space for reflection on the meaning of friendship — not just for women but for us all. Kate Tempest’s “Thirteen” speaks of youthful expectations and Rhian Edwards’ “Polly” is a love poem to the friend you always want to emulate. “Poem in Which My Legs Are Accepted” is Kathleen Fraser’s powerful confrontation of the self-doubt that society has made her put on her body.
This is a beautiful book. Treat yourself — or the poetry lover, socialist or feminist in your life — to it.