Oxford Poetry Library turns ONE!

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Our first year as Oxford’s pedal-powered lending library of poetry has flown by! Celebrate 12 months of browsing, borrowing, reading, rhyming, and writing with us at East Oxford Community Centre from 8pm on May 11. We will have an OPEN MIC SESSION so do bring along any work you’d like to share – your own or someone else’s who you admire – and sign up on the door. We will have POETIC GAMES so bring your creative joy and imagination.

 

We will also have readings from a range of writers to celebrate the diverse poetic voices in our city:

 

Nancy Campbell

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Nancy Campbell’s books include Disko Bay (shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection 2016) and How To Say ‘I Love You’ In Greenlandic (winner of the Birgit Skiöld Award), and her memoir The Library of Ice, is forthcoming from Scribner this autumn. Nancy is the current Canal Laureate.

 

Mbalenhle Matandela

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Mbalenhle Matandela is a Black radical feminist activist, poet and storyteller currently studying for her MSc Candidate in African Studies at the University of Oxford. Her activism and research interests include issues around race and resistance, gender, feminist education, militarism and sexual and reproductive health rights. Some of her poetry can be found in the Johannesburg Workshop in Theory and Criticism.

 

Shara Lessley

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Shara Lessley is the author of Two-Headed Nightingale and The Explosive Expert’s Wife. A former Wallace Stegner Fellow in Poetry at Stanford University, Shara’s awards include the Mary Wood Fellowship from Washington College, the Diane Middlebrook Poetry Fellowship from the University of Wisconsin, Colgate University’s Olive B. O’Connor Fellowship, and a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, among others. Shara was the inaugural Anne Spencer Poet-in-Residence at Randolph College. She is the co-editor of The Poem’s Country: Place & Poetic Practice and lives in Oxford.

 

We will also have a musical interlude from the incredibly talented Rosie Caldecott and Laura Theis.

 

You won’t want to miss this celebration! See you there…

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On the radio…

It’s looking to be a a busy week here at the library!

 

On top of our volunteer social and info evening at the Cape of Good Hope THIS FRIDAY, February 9th from 7pm, this week we will also be appearing on BBC Radio Oxford, Kat Orman’s show from about 11am this Thursday 8 February.

 

Tune in for some mid-morning banter and listen to Head Librarian Phoebe Nicholson definitely not stumble over her words on live radio, shooting the breeze with Kat about the library and its origins, the importance of poetry, the work OPL does, and give a little aural-tour of the bike.

 

Click on the pic below to listen live when the time comes, or to listen again…

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Volunteer Social and Info Evening!

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Is your new year’s resolution to volunteer more? Get involved with community projects? Read and share more poetry?

 

If you’d like to be a librarian for a day, create a reading list of your favourite poems for us to share with our borrowers, meet like-minded people, help a local, grassroots, not-for-profit project, or just fancy hanging out with a bikeful of books, then make 2018 the year you volunteer with us.

 

We’re having a little gathering at the Cape of Good Hope at 7pm on Friday, February 9th which you are invited to!

 

This is an opportunity for prospective volunteers and interested folk to come and learn more about what it is we do, offer their time or skills, meet and chat to the folk behind the bike, and sign up to volunteer with us (short-term, long-term, flexibly, or regularly). 

 

It’s also a chance for existing volunteers to come together and meet or re-meet each other, share poetic musings (and other musings, we’re not strict), and hang out over a pint.

 

Should be nice, eh? See you there!

 

xx Oxford Poetry Library

Michelle Madsen: Alternative Beach Sports [A Feminist Poem a day]

Every day up until our What Is Feminist Poetry? event we are collaborating on with Threads Equality Agency, we will be sharing a poem which exemplifies feminist poetry in one way or another – to celebrate these voices and start exploring the ideas and experiences they raise. Who writes feminist poetry? What is it about, and what kind of language does it use?

And remember – our event will include an open mic segment so please do bring along (or comment below!) any poetry you’ve written which you think explores or illustrates your experience of your gender, or poetry by anyone else (living, dead, celebrated, anonymous or otherwise) which you think deserves to be shared, discussed, or heard.

I hope you’re all as excited for this evening as we are! Come along East Oxford Community Centre at 7.30pm, bring a pen, paper, a bit of curiosity, open-mindedness, and imagination, and prepare for an evening of FEMINISM and POETRY.

The last feminist-poem-of-the-day we’ve got is by Michelle Madsen who will be sharing her work along with Serena Arthur tonight. It is a poem about empowerment, strength, possibliity, and frisbee, and captures the dizzying vertigo of hypothetical and real achievement with wit and poetic sleight of hand. Don’t miss this opportunity to enjoy Michelle and Serena’s work tonight, share your own, and share your ideas about writing and gender.

Here’s “Alternative Beach Sports”:

 

Dearest,
You are (hypothetically)
The greatest
Frisbee player
This world has ever seen.

In theory,
You could
Fling that disc
Unfettered across continents,
Watch it crest the waves
Of crabbed grey oceans,
Lick the sun’s hungry penumbra
without singeing its wings,
And
hurtle
back
earthwards
To whisper on the nervous legs of divers
Spin through the spray as they take fright,
And plunge right in.
 
Hypothetically,
Your disc would be arrested only by an errant tree
Which with stunning inconsideracy has been planted in its path
But no matter dearest, your frisbee ducks divinely
And you hook up lost sheep –
You beach-bound shepherdess –
This plastic plate your latter day crook.

In this multiverse of possibility
Disc-flinging has wrenched the adoration of the masses
From the ball’s spherical clutch
And you,
You’re crutched by their shoulders
As they crown you the day’s sporting uber-deity
On world-wide prime-time TV
With an infra-red plastic tiara
Jewelled with luminous beads of sweat
And then,
(then!)
You could even advertise high-end underwear!
On 50-foot high billboards
In big, busy cities
Where the kids haven’t even begun to dream
Of flinging their frisbees
Across all seven seas
And beyond the luminaries
Of far and lonely galaxies.

But dearest,
What’s in this dream?
Hypothetically you could become a raging queen
A supine witness,
A saint,
A trainee manatee,
A whore incorporated,
An anything, an anybody
Who drinks in secret and watches re-runs of past glories on TV,
Who wears her last hopes in the rents tears have torn in her face
Who Havishams her wedding lace
Freezing it in strips
And turns her eyes
To the brooding sky
Searching for grace
In the round-bellied clouds,
That play havoc with her nights.
 
So don’t count the lies
They outnumber the stars
Don’t think yourself small
But brace for the ride of your lives
Holding on to this disc
About to be thrown by the greatest
Frisbee player this world will ever see.

Serena Arthur: Greenhouse [A Feminist Poem a day]

Every day up until our What Is Feminist Poetry? event we are collaborating on with Threads Equality Agency, we will be sharing a poem which exemplifies feminist poetry in one way or another – to celebrate these voices and start exploring the ideas and experiences they raise. Who writes feminist poetry? What is it about, and what kind of language does it use?

And remember – our event will include an open mic segment so please do bring along (or comment below!) any poetry you’ve written which you think explores or illustrates your experience of your gender, or poetry by anyone else (living, dead, celebrated, anonymous or otherwise) which you think deserves to be shared, discussed, or heard.

Our event is TOMORROW! Get yer tickets now to avoid disappointment on the door. This also means we have only two more feminist poems to share with you in our feminist poetry advent calendar. But they’re both good’uns.

This penultimate feminist poem is by our very own Serena Arthur who will be one of our performers tomorrow night. Serena (http://www.libraryofbirmingham.com/ypl-serenaarthur) is a second year English student at Mansfield College, Oxford. From the ages of 16 to 18 she held the title of Birmingham’s Young Poet Laureate 2014 – 16 and, both during and after this period, has performed

in many venues, including Birmingham Town Hall, Writing West Midlands’ Birmingham Literature Festival, London School of Economics and lots and lots of schools. Serena even read on Barbados television in 2015 and is looking forward to performing more in Oxford. Here’s one of her powerful and truthful pieces exploring themes which have come up before in this feminist poetry rundown – ownership of your own body, self-perception, self-respect, and finding strength. Here’s “Greenhouse”:

 

There doesn’t seem to be

A mid-point in our society

Between was

And could have been

A focus on the negatives

That cancels out the positives

Subtracts our sense of self worth

And multiplies our doubt

And leaves us all wondering

What life is all about

We live a society

Where x equals perfection

And any kind of difference

or dissymmetry

Fails to fit into the equation

Where we are ashamed

Of our own bodies

Of our own bodies

 

Both the parts that we can cover

And edit and makeover and change

And the parts that whatever we do

Will always be the same

When we hate that our

Bodies that don’t fit the prototype

 

Of those we see on TV

 

Or in the papers or in the magazines

For when x equals perfection

We are unable to work out why

 

We look like we do

 

Why we don’t look

 

Like they do

 

It’s hard to realise

That even the new generations

Are following in our footsteps

Not towards acceptance

But towards unneeded operations

It’s hard to realise

 

They need a popstar to tell them

 

That nobody’s perfect

 

And a group of scantily clad singers

To tell them that they’re worth it

We need to spread the message

That we should already know

That are bodies aren’t a battleground

But a place where we can grow

We need to let poppies bloom in our pores

 

Let our bodies be a paradise

 

A sanctuary

A greenhouse for

Self appreciation

And self respect

Remove the magnifying glass

from our imperfections

And let our bodies rest

In peace

Just as beautiful now as

They have

 

Always been

The Mother: Gwendolyn Brooks [A Feminist Poem a day]

c/w abortion

Every day up until our What Is Feminist Poetry? event we are collaborating on with Threads Equality Agency, we will be sharing a poem which exemplifies feminist poetry in one way or another – to celebrate these voices and start exploring the ideas and experiences they raise. Who writes feminist poetry? What is it about, and what kind of language does it use?

And remember – our event will include an open mic segment so please do bring along (or comment below!) any poetry you’ve written which you think explores or illustrates your experience of your gender, or poetry by anyone else (living, dead, celebrated, anonymous or otherwise) which you think deserves to be shared, discussed, or heard.

Feminist poetry does not shy away from female experiences. Even when it is heartbreaking or painful (physically or otherwise), traumatizing, or uncomfortable, poetry is a chance to share what it is like to experience harassment or menstruation or childbirth or misogyny or – in the case of this poem by Gwendolyn Brooks – abortion. Though it doesn’t take a straightforward for or against stance, the poem explores the hugely complicated emotional undertaking of such a decision, from the point of view of someone who has actually taken that decision. It has been called an anti-abortion poem, but it reads to me more as an agonizingly complex and non-judgemental portrayal of a woman undergoing this experience. There is unflinching honesty in poems like these which are not often voiced elsewhere and it can be painful to read – but unmistakably important that these feelings are recorded and truthfully expressed.

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/43309/the-mother-56d2220767a02

He Tells Her: Wendy Cope [A Feminist Poem a day]

Every day up until our What Is Feminist Poetry? event we are collaborating on with Threads Equality Agency, we will be sharing a poem which exemplifies feminist poetry in one way or another – to celebrate these voices and start exploring the ideas and experiences they raise. Who writes feminist poetry? What is it about, and what kind of language does it use?

And remember – our event will include an open mic segment so please do bring along (or comment below!) any poetry you’ve written which you think explores or illustrates your experience of your gender, or poetry by anyone else (living, dead, celebrated, anonymous or otherwise) which you think deserves to be shared, discussed, or heard.

As well as being an empowering chance to celebrate female identity, revel in your experiences, and explore your own voice, poetry can be an invaluable space to air or play out frustrations. Here’s Wendy Cope crystallising the phenomenon of mansplaining in her poem ‘He Tells Her’. I’m sure we can all relate.

https://poetryspotlight.wordpress.com/2014/07/05/he-tells-her-wendy-cope/

To My Excellent Lucasia: Katherine Philips [A Feminist Poem a day]

Every day up until our What Is Feminist Poetry? event we are collaborating on with Threads Equality Agency, we will be sharing a poem which exemplifies feminist poetry in one way or another – to celebrate these voices and start exploring the ideas and experiences they raise. Who writes feminist poetry? What is it about, and what kind of language does it use?

And remember – our event will include an open mic segment so please do bring along (or comment below!) any poetry you’ve written which you think explores or illustrates your experience of your gender, or poetry by anyone else (living, dead, celebrated, anonymous or otherwise) which you think deserves to be shared, discussed, or heard.

It may seem odd to think of something as simple and wholesome as friendship as radical, but Katherine Philips’s poem ‘To My Excellent Lucasia, on our Friendship’ was fairly unusual at the time. The 17th century saw an era of much writing that celebrated friendship, but that friendship was often assumed to be exclusively the province of men. But here, laid out in language that balances between assurance, passion and tenderness, Philips argues that women are intellectual and emotional beings of equal or greater sensitivity who can form strong and powerful bonds of friendship too.

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/50445/to-my-excellent-lucasia-on-our-friendship

I Don’t Need Legs Anymore: Anna Akhmatova [A Feminist Poem a day]

Every day up until our What Is Feminist Poetry? event we are collaborating on with Threads Equality Agency, we will be sharing a poem which exemplifies feminist poetry in one way or another – to celebrate these voices and start exploring the ideas and experiences they raise. Who writes feminist poetry? What is it about, and what kind of language does it use?

And remember – our event will include an open mic segment so please do bring along (or comment below!) any poetry you’ve written which you think explores or illustrates your experience of your gender, or poetry by anyone else (living, dead, celebrated, anonymous or otherwise) which you think deserves to be shared, discussed, or heard.

Reading feminist poetry can draw our attention to some incredible, brave, and outrageously resilient human beings which history may have otherwise forgotten. Anna Akhmatova is one such impressive person. Writing in Soviet Russia in the early/mid 20th century, she wrote an elegiac poem cycle called ‘Requiem’ about the people’s suffering under Stalinist terror – and especially that of the women. This is an amazing achievement, describing with honesty and disbelief the personal grief, persecution, and resilience of the people. In the paragraph introducing the poem, Akhmatova describes the women freezing in the prison queues in Leningrad, and one woman standing behind her, blue-lipped with cold: “She said into my ear (everyone whispered there) ‘Could one ever describe this?’ And I answered, ‘I can.’ It was then that something like a smile slid across what had previously been just a face.”

Akhmatova knew the risk of committing the poem to paper during Stalin’s rule so memorized parts of it herself, and asked a few trusted friends to memorize the rest. It wasn’t until after Stalin’s death in the 1960s that it could be cobbled together and published in full – it can be read here: https://www.poetryloverspage.com/poe…/akhmatova/requiem.html

If you’d rather a shorter introduction to Akhmatova’s work, here’s a poem called “I Don’t Need Legs Anymore” translated from the Russian by Judith Hemschemeyer – the last line expressing exasperation at the mid-20th century equivalent to men telling women to “smile”.

http://pippoetry.blogspot.co.uk/2010/06/anna-akhmatova-russia-1889-1966-born.html 

Late Bloom: Jenny Johnson [A Feminist Poem a day]

Every day up until our What Is Feminist Poetry? event we are collaborating on with Threads Equality Agency, we will be sharing a poem which exemplifies feminist poetry in one way or another – to celebrate these voices and start exploring the ideas and experiences they raise. Who writes feminist poetry? What is it about, and what kind of language does it use?

And remember – our event will include an open mic segment so please do bring along (or comment below!) any poetry you’ve written which you think explores or illustrates your experience of your gender, or poetry by anyone else (living, dead, celebrated, anonymous or otherwise) which you think deserves to be shared, discussed, or heard.

Poetry, and feminist poetry in particular, is a chance to explore the body, one’s experience of one’s own body and how we learn to inhabit it, accept it, grow into it. For many people this takes time and can face resistance. Poetry is a valuable, potent way to get to grips with one’s own gender, physical being, and expression of identity. Jenny Johnson’s work delves into the complexities of queer identity, her experience of intimacy, gender, physicality, “a heart hunting after a body”.  Here’s “Late Bloom“.