Women of Resistance: Poem for a New Feminism is a collection of poems revolving around the subjects of sexism and racism, whether ‘everyday’ or more extreme, and the implications of such attitudes in a wider consideration.
Reading the book, I got the overwhelming impression that each poet is in full support of the other, and that they are all restless for the same cause. There is something profoundly comforting in the knowledge that all these people understand; there is a sense of an army of poets, voices shouting from the pages that things need to change.
This wasn’t just an anthology of vaguely related poems, but a manifesto, almost, of the kinds of things that are happening and the action we need to take to resolve some of the problematic attitudes that contribute to gendered and racial violence.
The very first poem, “a woman’s place” by Denice Frohman, nicely sets the tone and general agenda of the collection. As an absolute queen of spoken word poetry you would expect from her a strong message and some resonance, and that is exactly what is delivered here. It is ‘in your face’ feminism – but you want it to be like that, you want to feel the drive and either understand every sentiment or be wowed by the knowledge of what she’s saying.
After this strong start, I was wondering if I was in for nearly two hundred pages of similar material – which would have been endlessly important, but pretty exhausting. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the diversity of tone and subject in the anthology: there were poems about women, about violence, about personal experiences, race, gender, sexuality, conflict, identity, love, art, and so on. It’s not an exhausting read – far from it, in fact. As a whole, the book is empowering, demanding, comforting and tragic all at the same time, but most importantly it makes you want to read more.
Another poem that stood out was Rachel McKibbens’ ‘shiv’ purely because I am not well versed at all on the kinds of discrimination Mexicans face; pretty much the only thing I know about Mexico is that Trump doesn’t like it. The poem is so telling of everyday racism that some of it is sadly laughable; the lines ‘“No,” he laughs, “you’re not Mexican.” / “Yes, I am.” / “No,” he continues, reassuringly, / “and if you are, you’re only, maybe, 17%.”’ revealed the ignorance of some people so brilliantly that they were funny whilst still maddening me.
This wasn’t the only poem that worked this way, either – I snorted to myself a few times at some of the outrageous comments or events depicted in the poems, just because they are so ridiculous.
For me, the weaker poems were the ones that strayed quite far from the theme of explaining and/or overcoming systems of oppression or discrimination. Whilst it still made good poetry, I felt the collection was stronger when it had some sort of agenda, because that is what I expected to be reading. I was there for the heated calls of injustice, the more sensitive or painful recounts of real events, and the sense of community I felt from them.
This is a really strong collection in terms of both literary and social merit, but my favourite thing was by far the diversity of poets -and therefore voices- who are all present in each page, cheering each other on.
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