Deborah Alma, on editing #MeToo- rallying against sexual harrassment- a women’s poetry anthology ahead an event at of this year’s Ledbury Poetry Festival 2018
I remember back in October, listening to some of those many conversations that started up in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein allegations and being surprised to hear male news reporters being genuinely shocked as they asked women politicians, actors and media colleagues if they’d ever experienced anything similar, and being told ‘Of course’ and ‘Yes, many times’ and ‘Every woman’.
I am a bit of a Facebook tart, and I asked the women there if any of them had not experienced any form of sexual harassment in their lives and was surprised to find that of the 200 women that started to share some of their stories, 2 or 3 were able to say that it had never happened to them. My surprise was not that there were so few, but that there were any at all. I wasn’t even aware of the #MeToo thing happening over on Twitter at that point, but as it turned out, very many women were sharing their stories.
A friend suggested we collect these stories and as I’m a poet, have edited a couple of poetry anthologies, and many women on that thread were fellow poets, it occurred to me to collect some of these stories as a poetry anthology.
It has been quite an extraordinary book from start to finish. I asked for submissions through FB and Twitter and received over 600 poems during the very short submission window of 3 weeks; some of the poems now in the book I already knew and actively sought out …Sarah Doyle’s #MeToo for example I knew from its appearance in The Morning Star (1) and its being shared tens of thousands of times on Twitter, as well as US poet Emily Sernaker’s poem Now When I Think About Women (2) from Poet’s Respond which was also a social media phenomenon.
With almost every submission came a covering letter that was often harrowing to read; stories of rape and domestic abuse, a 17-year-old girl already a victim of rape and writing about it, betrayals of trust, and declarations of extreme bravery in the sharing of the work. Many of the e-mails required long back and forth conversations as you might imagine, a hand-holding exercise and tenderness both in the saying yes, but also in the I’m so sorry but for reasons of space, or the book as a whole I can’t accept your poem… I felt the responsibility terribly. I wanted to put the big arms of the book around each and every poet. This was so so difficult to do. I am so delighted that each poet who was long-listed for the book has been given the opportunity to publish their work courtesy of Vik Bennett of Wild Women Press.
A wonderful and empowering thing for me has been the extraordinary generosity of other women. My good friend and publisher Nadia Kingsley (while we were swimming) offered to upload it to her publishing software and to give me an ISBN, but in the end she has been there at every step of the way, working so hard getting it right and proudly owning the book as part of her Fair Acre Press. A young artist Jessamy Hawke wanted to donate artwork for the project and her ink drawings head each of the 7 sections. My friend Sandra Salter did all of the artwork for the striking cover which she drew when she was angry!
And another remarkable thing has been, again through a Facebook group made up from the artists and most of the 80 poets in the book, how everyone there feels so strongly about the book being theirs. It feels to me as though we are a string of paper dolls, stretched out and holding hands as we bravely put our names to our several parts of the whole.
And it is brave. We are often having conversations to support each other as we worry about reading these words in public, worry about our families discovering that there has been rape in our past, worrying what our exes might do or say, or our students, our children…
It has been the most enormous privilege to be part of bringing this book into existence. The final remarkable thing has been the reception to the book since its publication in March. Since then there have been several excellent reviews including this most recently from Rosie Jackson in The High Window (3) and over 20 public readings or performances from the anthology all over the country, including at Birmingham Literary Festival where women stood up to read the poems from the audience as though offering testimony, in a very moving cross between a Quaker Meeting and a flash-mob. We have spoken to very many women over the course of these events and there have been a lot of tears and sharing of stories and most importantly of all a desire to keep the conversation going.
There are many more events to come including ‘The Personal is Political’ at Ledbury Poetry Festival on 5 July which is a panel discussion and reading involving Pascale Petit, Kim Moore, Roz Goddard and myself. And we have been delighted to have won Best Poetry Anthology 2018 at the recent Saboteur Awards in London.
The book has felt, in the words of Nadia Kingsley, publisher at Fair Acre Press, ‘a very pure book’. All work has been donated and all proceeds from its sale are going to the domestic abuse charity Women’s Aid.
The Personal is Political with Deborah Alma, Pascale Petit, Kim Moore and Roz Goddard takes place at the UK’s biggest poetry festival, Ledbury Poetry Festival 2018 (29 June – 8 July) on Thursday 5 July 2018, 6pm. Tickets here Deborah Alma will also be at Ledbury festival as Emergency Poet, offering poetic prescriptions from her vintage ambulance.
(1) The Morning Star 19th October 2018
(2) Rattle, 22 October 2017
(3) The High Window, 21 May 2018
Deborah Alma biography
Deborah Alma is a mixed race Indian/ English woman, born in London and now living in the Welsh Marches. She is a UK poet with a MA in Creative Writing, Honorary Research fellow at Keele University & taught Writing Poetry at Worcester University. She has worked using poetry with people with dementia, in hospice care & with vulnerable groups. She is also Emergency Poet prescribing poetry from her vintage ambulance. She is a National Poetry Day Poetry Ambassador.
She is editor of Emergency Poet-an anti-stress poetry anthology, The Everyday Poet- Poems to live by (both Michael O’Mara) and #Me Too – rallying against sexual assault & harassment- a women’s poetry anthology (Fair Acre Press). Her True Tales of the Countryside is published by The Emma Press and her first collection Dirty Laundry has just been published by Nine Arches Press. Her website is: https://emergencypoet.com/
Praise for #MeToo – a women’s poetry anthology:
“Timely, human and political – and generously raising funds as well as awareness” Kaite O’Reilly
“This book contains the poetry of necessity and truth, exploding into the light, where it goddamn belongs. Please read these poems and then decide in what order you want to 1) cry 2) march 3) scream with relief and recognition 4) grab a sword-pen and write your own.” Amanda Palmer