One Sunday, in the quiet folds of The Albany in Deptford, a group of womxn came together to talk about our place in the arts, and specifically poetry. We came to listen, to write, and to share our voices.
Organised by Talia Randall, it featured guest facilitation from three other poets. Lisa Luxx is an artist known for her strong message of sisterhood and powerful words. Shagufta K. Iqbal of The Yoniverse – a support group offering self-identifying South Asian female spoken word poets a sense of community. Anita Barton-Williams recently saw the power of people coming together to support her work through crowd funding for Heaux Noire – an open mic (and more) for womxn of colour. Each gave a short presentation along with a writing exercise, which all allowed for a dialogue to take place.
Lisa Luxx spoke eloquently of the power of sisterhood, imagining it as more of a web than the hierarchical pyramid of patriarchy. She asked us to think of a poet to represent our generation now, and a few names were called out. She then dismantled this view by arguing for plurality, that there can be no single representative voice if we are to share power. I run a feminist arts night called She Grrrowls (with an upcoming book tour of the same name this autumn), and sometimes my feminist activism feels too caught up in capitalism. Promotion can feel a bit icky. This session gave me a reassurance that I don’t need to be ashamed for promoting other womxn’s voices (in fact, I suspect most would say I should be proud). We live within the confines of capitalism, but we can work to redistribute the wealth.
Luxx spoke about an economy of sisterhood, where we make sure that we invest in womxn. When in a position of hiring someone, whether an artist or a plumber, hire a womxn. She extended the metaphor of siblings to the idea of sharing your toys when you don’t really want to. This means stepping into the responsibility by taking this kind of action, which in some cases might mean turning down work by suggesting someone more suitable. I was once offered a commission to write poems about the Indian subcontinent’s involvement in WWI. In retrospect, it was a failure of responsibility for me to take this on myself. Now that I am more conscious of this, I would forward the request on to a collective such as The Yoniverse. Throughout the session, we made it clear that when we speak of sisterhood this is inclusive of gender non-conforming people, and in this spirit Luxx also spoke of a womxn’s press she wanted to start up due to the lack of representation within poetry publishing.
Shagufta K. Iqbal spoke of her initial fear of her poetry being a rant, which led her to be apologetic about feminism. She shared the title poem from her book ‘Jam Is For Girls, Girls Get Jam’, but also spoke around her identity of being a WOC and dyslexic, as well as the background of her family in Pakistan, where men had privileges over women, giving context to her work. She spoke about the arts scene paying lip service to box-ticking diversity, rather than building genuine solidarity, and the importance of groups and organisations such as The Yoniverse, She Grrrowls, Heaux Noire, and Octavia. She said she felt gratitude that these spaces exist, but also that we shouldn’t have to feel gratitude. The existence of womxn-focused groups like these should be expected.
there was a sense of a non-hierarchical structure
Anita Barton-Williams shared a poem that was sparked by her experiences at a poetry slam with only one other WOC. She described a white cis-man whose gendered, racist lines, pandering among other things to a host of stereotypes of black women, earned him success in the slam. It is in spaces like that afternoon in the Albany, and spaces like Heaux Noire, where we can speak freely about these experiences, weaving words out of past pain to build ourselves up within supportive communities that come together in the spirit of solidarity and an all-encompassing sisterhood.
Lisa Luxx also led us in an exercise where we collectively wrote a manifesto for sisterhood. Statements from the manifesto included:
Believe the truth and feelings of what other sisters are saying.
Acknowledge and accept your privilege.
Welcome honest words and not just words that make us comfortable.
A sister must not remain silent if another sister is in need.
Celebrate your sisters. If you can’t, ask yourself why.
Accept your sisters, you don’t get to pick who is a sister, or a sibling.
Throughout the afternoon itself, we saw a dismantling of the patriarchal pyramid. Though at points different facilitators arguably took the lead, there was a sense of a non-hierarchical structure to the day, which created an environment where everyone was truly listened to. The thoughts shared here invite readers to respond and build on the ideas presented in this manifesto for sisterhood, casting the web beyond this one Sunday afternoon.
Featured image credit: Talia Randall
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