Loose Muse: Four Women Poets

This post was contributed by Emily Best, who will be starting an MA in Modern and Contemporary Literature at Birkbeck this September.

A week before the Orange Prize winner is announced, the debate rages on about whether there is a “canon” of women writers. Last week in a little room at 43 Gordon Square four lady wordsmiths made their case in favour. Loose Muse is a collective run by Agnes Meadows and runs London’s only all-female writing open mic night at the Poetry Café in Covent Garden. It’s not just poetry: women writers of all genres and experience can take part. Last week’s event was a showcase for some of the finest she-poets in the capital to showcase their work amongst a small audience, discuss their poetry and open up the floor.

The event opened with Kate McLoughlin, whose poetry collections Plums is a response to William Carlos Williams’ great American fridge-note-poem This is Just to Say. Kate’s fifty-eight variations on a reply to Williams, which also allude to Picasso’s reimagining of Velazquez’ Las Meninas, explore the variances and nuances of domestic interaction. Kate moves beautifully and sensitively from flippant to epic, on occasion nearing parody, engaging wholly with Williams’ poem (and in turn addressing the critical tradition that surrounds it) but at the same time reclaiming what Williams leaves unsaid and open-ended. I couldn’t help thinking as I listened, is that what these women are doing? What so many people do? Establishing a new tradition; a new canon; picking up where others have left off.

Following Kate was Agnes Meadows herself. I immediately warmed to Agnes – a force of energy in the room, inspiring and welcoming. As she talked of Poetry Café and the work of Loose Muse I knew that in front of me was a woman genuinely committed to the promotion of women poets. I was very happy to discover that her poetry had the same enthusiasm as she did for the project. Reading from  At Damascus Gate on Good Friday, This One is for You and Woman, Agnes went from recounting the fear of sleeping through bombs in Palestine in They’re Bombing the Port again at Gaza to the pain of watching a sibling get your man in Juliet’s Sister. The passion and sensitivity in these poems tell of a woman who has lived and of a poet who feels and writes to the tips of her fingers.

In a complete change of pace, Sally Blackmore came next. Sally had to give up work five years ago and, wanting to use the time usefully, started writing and painting and took a creative writing course at the Open University. Her son, who is in the army, recently got sent to Afghanistan and Sally found that her new-found gift provided a tool for dealing with this. To begin with, I couldn’t believe that Sally had only been writing for five years. The first poem she read, Soldier, had a bittersweet wariness and grace to it that seemed borne of a mind that had always worked in verse. Here was a woman who took pain and fear in her hand like a proverbial nettle and refigured them as something good.

The final poet on the bill was Camilla Reeve. Again, Camilla brought a different energy to the room. Though Camilla has an aura of earnest seriousness about her, her poetry had a lyrical, tender and humorous quality that reminded me a little of Jake Thackray. Where Kate had acrobatic wit and Agnes had exuberance Camilla, like Sally, had contained dignity. Winter Angel was a particular favourite and, on further research, I discovered Dark Bird Turning and fell a little bit in love. Camilla’s poetry concerns itself with trajectories of emotion and the rudiments of relationships between people and places and things. It is entirely and only what it needs to be.

In a nice epilogue to the event, the floor opened up to poets in the audience. Somewhat ironically the two volunteers were both men and I was intrigued to see how this would work. Criton Tomazos read some extracts of what he announced to be nonsense poetry – Unspecified Space-Time was my favourite – playful, witty and at once hesitant and determined in a style reminiscent of Cummings. Criton was followed by Marcin Gozdzik who writes all his poems on a smartphone, each one lasting precisely the length of his tube journey. In his poems that seemed to concern themselves mostly with his being a bad boyfriend, Marcin was affectionate and self-effacing with a detached irony. These two gentlemen, bravely standing in a room of confident women poets whose womanliness defined their union, proved that there is a voice to be welcomed no matter how many chromosomes you have. More importantly though, they demonstrated what the four women proved, each in their own way – every voice is there to be reclaimed and used as necessary and at a time when women are still fighting for those voices, reclamation is as important as ever.

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