Tag: feminist

‘hex it through glory / total and utter glory’


(WITCH, complete with early-bird feathers & crystal)

It’s here. And it’s glorious.

I was deeply excited to receive my copy of WITCH (Penned in the Margins) yesterday. I’ve been waiting for it (pretty impatiently) ever since seeing Rebecca Tamás perform ‘penis hex’ in 2017, waiting with that slight nervousness that attends high hopes. Will it be as good as one imagines? I needn’t have worried, this collection is insanely good. It arcs terrifyingly, exhilaratingly off the page, demanding of the reader a complete, spirited, whole-body response. It is also by turns: profoundly political; arcane & expansive; sensual; disturbing; hilarious and dark.

After my initial leaping about in it, I started digging around in boxes, trying to find my mum’s old dissertation, which she wrote when studying for an MA in Witchcraft. In it, she focused on Relationships with the Familiar, with reference to Elizabeth Sawyer and her black dog Tom. Sawyer was hanged in 1621 and was the inspiration for The Witch of Edmonton. While my mum was researching (and as I had a smattering of Latin) she had me down the Met’ Police Archives searching for the court records of Sawyer’s trial: a weird, white-gloved exercise in dust and indecipherable medieval Latin. I wasn’t much help.

Anyway, in the 1600s the proofs required by witch trials largely boiled down to identification of two things: a familiar, and the teat by which the familiar was fed, on the witch’s body. Leafing through it again now, I am reminded of just how weaponised the female body was in the context of the (literal) witch hunt. The disgust and physical misogyny that found ‘the devil’ in the tags and tears of a woman’s body speak now to the modern, homogenising scalpel (both actual, metaphorical and virtual), that would still stigmatise the ‘unusual’ or ‘atypical’, when in fact all our bodies are multifarious and unique. WITCH offers a powerful countering; reconnects mind with body, and both with utterance. Because after all, this book is about spelling it out.

In Tamás’s recent White Review essay ‘Songs of Hecate’, she asks – how to find the magic of the body? How to bring it into language? Well, this collection is an object lesson in exactly that. It is not about witchcraft, it is witchcraft. Visceral, alive and embodied, it crackles with intent. In ‘Songs of Hecate’ she goes on to say – A witch’s desire changes what is thinkable within the body – much like poetry might do. Much like THIS poetry might, or indeed does do. WITCH shifts your thinking. Moves poetry on. Stuffs it in an eggshell and compels it, sailing through the air.

It is a terrifying magic. You know you need it.

‘Or failing that, invent’ – Monique Wittig


Originally published in 1969 by Les Éditions de Minuit, I first encountered Monique Wittig’s Les Guérillères when my dad brought home a copy of David Le Vay’s Picador translation (along with a copy of Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch). Both books were decorated with the now iconic artwork of John Holmes, whose surrealist covers made quite the impression! But it was Wittig’s challenge to phallogocentric language that made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. I didn’t have the language to describe it back then, but could feel the furniture being entirely rearranged in my teenage brain.

Returning to it a few years ago, I became interested in pushing the pronouns of the translation a little further, as well as exploring Wittig’s position re white space and margins, and so began a slow and as yet unfinished translation of the book, which I dip in and out of whenever I have a quiet period in my own work.

I am delighted to say that Blackbox Manifold have published some sections of this ongoing translation in their Winter issue. The pieces included are the two lineated poems that open and close Wittig’s novel, and three short extracts from the main body of the text, the closest description of which would be ‘epic prose poetry’. The circle is an important motif of the novel, both graphically and thematically, and I have tried to convey that. For any ‘English-only’ speakers interested in reading the whole thing, I recommend Le Vay’s translation, some of the phrasing of which would be difficult to improve on.

I also recommend the whole of Blackbox Manifold Issue 21, which is filled with fantastic work –

More about Monique Wittig and her work –

‘A Woman, Island, Country, Tree, and City, Feminine we see’



(After Mary Beard – my battered copy of Kennedy’s Revised Latin Primer. As per MB, also nicked from school. Pronouns page appropriately graffitied…thirty five years ago now!)

Really enjoyed Beard’s piece on Radio 4 today. ‘Amo Amas Amusical’ focuses on Benjamin  Kennedy’s daughters, Marion and Julia, who made their father’s original ‘incomprehensible’ primer THE go-to guide to Latin grammar. Her brief history of the lives of the Kennedy sisters, coupled with her account of opposition to women’s education in the late-19th/early-20th century is cut with Emily Levy’s delightfully bonkers choral renditions of sections of the book and anti-clever-women sentiments of the day, sung by a Chorus of Trolls. Brilliantly playful, it is perfect New Year’s Day listening –

Screen picture of Mary Beard credit – Amanda Benson


‘Flee to the forests, go to the mountain’ (Alfonsina Storni)


As an accompaniment to the Argentine leg of my travels, in both Buenos Aires and the mountains and forests of Patagonia, I have been reading a short, selected works by the Argentine poet, Alfonsina Storni (Tú me quieres blanca/You want me white) My Spanish is terrible, so this has been an interesting immersion in both her work and the language. One minute I am wrestling with a Latin American phrasebook for sundries, the next the early 1900s world of this much-loved and proto-feminist poet. Difficult to pigeonhole, but influenced by both modernism and romanticism, her poems are lyrical, angry and sad, and explore the culture of the time and a woman’s place within it. Sadly, struggling with solitude and incurable breast cancer, and rather than suffer the ravages of treatment, she eventually drowned herself at Mar del Plata in 1938. Her last poem ‘Voy a dormir’ (I’m going to sleep) was written as a goodbye just before this, and was published in La Nación.

Here is a short poem of hers, translated by Muna Lee in Poetry Magazine’s landmark anthology of Latin American poets back in 1925. Lee herself helped bring female voices like Storni and Gabriela Mistral (who I have bookmarked for Chile) to English language readers of poetry –

¿Y tú?

Sí, yo me muevo, vivo, me equivoco;
agua que corre y se entremezcla, siento
el vértigo feroz del movimiento:
huelo las selvas, tierra nueva toco.

Sí, yo me muevo, voy buscando acaso
soles, auroras, tempestad y olvido.
¿Qué haces allí misérrimo y pulido?
Eres la piedra a cuyo lado paso.

Running Water

Yes, I move, I live, I wander astray—
Water running, intermingling, over the sands.
I know the passionate pleasure of motion;
I taste the forests; I touch strange lands.

Yes, I move­­—perhaps I am seeking
Storms, suns, dawns, a place to hide.
What are you doing here, pale and polished—
You, the stone in the path of the tide?