Every day up until our What Is Feminist Poetry? event we are collaborating on with Threads Equality Agency, we will be sharing a poem which exemplifies feminist poetry in one way or another – to celebrate these voices and start exploring the ideas and experiences they raise. Who writes feminist poetry? What is it about, and what kind of language does it use?
And remember – our event will include an open mic segment so please do bring along (or comment below!) any poetry you’ve written which you think explores or illustrates your experience of your gender, or poetry by anyone else (living, dead, celebrated, anonymous or otherwise) which you think deserves to be shared, discussed, or heard.
Reading feminist poetry can draw our attention to some incredible, brave, and outrageously resilient human beings which history may have otherwise forgotten. Anna Akhmatova is one such impressive person. Writing in Soviet Russia in the early/mid 20th century, she wrote an elegiac poem cycle called ‘Requiem’ about the people’s suffering under Stalinist terror – and especially that of the women. This is an amazing achievement, describing with honesty and disbelief the personal grief, persecution, and resilience of the people. In the paragraph introducing the poem, Akhmatova describes the women freezing in the prison queues in Leningrad, and one woman standing behind her, blue-lipped with cold: “She said into my ear (everyone whispered there) ‘Could one ever describe this?’ And I answered, ‘I can.’ It was then that something like a smile slid across what had previously been just a face.”
Akhmatova knew the risk of committing the poem to paper during Stalin’s rule so memorized parts of it herself, and asked a few trusted friends to memorize the rest. It wasn’t until after Stalin’s death in the 1960s that it could be cobbled together and published in full – it can be read here: https://www.poetryloverspage.com/poe…/akhmatova/requiem.html
If you’d rather a shorter introduction to Akhmatova’s work, here’s a poem called “I Don’t Need Legs Anymore” translated from the Russian by Judith Hemschemeyer – the last line expressing exasperation at the mid-20th century equivalent to men telling women to “smile”.