I’d like to travel back through time and tell my schoolgirl self that, one day, I’d consider poetry to be a magic carpet. (Although, I suspect she would have looked up from wrestling with a knotty slice of D.H. Lawrence only to roll her eyes!) To me now, though, there is no more efficient escape hatch from the daily grind than a poem. In just a handful of lines, a poet can snatch us up to dangle us over mountain ranges, sweep us into starry space or plunge us into the ocean’s green depths. Poetry can take you anywhere.

When I first began gathering work by women poets and reading about their lives while editing She is Fierce, I started to understand just how much was stacked against them. To make any kind of art, an artist requires leisure, learning and liberty – all privileges that have been harder for women than men to access throughout history and into our own time. During most periods, only a handful of aristocratic women enjoyed the time, education and opportunity to aspire to a literary career and, even then, they were often mocked or condemned for their daring. “Intense thought spoils a lady’s features,” asserted eighteenth-century critic William Rose, and gentlemen of the press raged against women who neglected their domestic duties to write. Well into the twentieth and twenty-first centuries women’s writing has routinely been dismissed and undervalued.

Female writers have, therefore, always had good cause to write about the liberties they have so often been denied. She Will Soar began as a book about travel – through this world and others, through the air and over the waves, into space and beneath the earth – but transformed in the gathering into a collection of bright, brave poems about escape and freedom. From frustrated housewives to passionate activists, here is a bold choir of voices shouting for independence and celebrating their power.

This collection was conceived in 2019. These words – about wanderlust and longing to be free – took on a deeper resonance as the world locked down in the face of a global pandemic. The verses I had collected were suddenly my only means of travel or escape and felt all the more necessary for it. We don’t know how long our wings will be clipped in some ways but, like many others, I have found comfort and a taste of liberty every time I have opened a book. I hope this volume can add to that reservoir of consolation.

There are many reasons to be cheerful about the status of women’s writing. Women fill stadiums, win prizes and scale the bestseller lists. Digital ecosystems such as Instagram have created a new generation of poetry lovers and enabled talented poets to leapfrog the genre’s traditional gatekeepers to reach readers. Publishers and critics have acknowledged the imbalances of the past and are newly mindful of their responsibility to produce a more diverse canon for the future. Some of the women in these pages remained unpublished or unpraised during their lifetimes, and I find it completely wonderful to know that they are moving new readers now.

I apologise, as always, for omissions – it was painful to have to whittle down a many-splendoured longlist to something that wouldn’t fill a whole shelf – but I wish you as much pleasure reading these poems as I had foraging for them. One of the greatest beauties of poetry is that it reminds us that we are not, and never have been, alone. These women walked this way before us, and they have left us these bright threads to follow through the dark. For the days when the world weighs heavy on us, for the days when the struggle seems fiercest, I hope you will find a parachute in these poems.

from the introduction to She Will Soar (Macmillan, £14.99)

 

When to Write
by Sophia Thakur

When your fists are ready to paint faces
When there is nowhere to confide
When your skin lingers high above your bones
and you’re so out of touch with self,
Write.
When the mouth fails you
and shyness strangles
and your throat become tight,
Write.
When your eyes won’t dry,
Write.
Before your fight,
Before you fall,
Write.
When they lie to you
When they hurt you,
Write.
And if they return,
And they have listened
You better write.
When the urge arises
Step out of the shower
And write.
When the world denies you
Find you power
And write.
When they speak of a freedom that doesn’t include you…
Write away those bars
Write together your scars
Write around your wounds
Write into your womb
Write upwards
Write inwards
Write though and write around
Absolutely everything that tries to steal your sound

sophiathakur.co.uk

 

Hunter’s Moon
by Moya Cannon

There are perhaps no accidents,
no coincidences.
When we stumble against people, books, rare moments out of time,
these are illuminations –
like the hunter’s moon that sails tonight in its high clouds,
casting light into our black harbour,
where four black turf boats
tug at their ropes,
hunger for the islands.

moyacannon.ie

 

Galway Dreaming
by Salena Godden

I watch the gush of life in the May sunshine.
Galway is slow and golden syrup.
I sit outside the same café all afternoon
slowly sipping beers
watching students cavort
like the swallows above the town,
spring sun shines on my face,
I could not be more happy.
My heart leaps like the fish
in the shimmering river
and I let my gladness run free.
I imagine living here in Ireland,
how I would write another book,
a tender and poetic story and
I’d marry a strapping lad
with soft green-blue eyes,
sometimes we’d drink whiskey
and watch the full moon rise,
my cheeks would be pink
and my body a little plump
but my husband would cherish me,
he’d be faithful and steady and strong,
he’d pick me up and make me laugh like a girl.
I’d have a slower heartbeat.
I’d write poems on the beach each morning
and swim a mile in the bay at sunset.
It would be a good and happy life.
London would become a blurred fog,
a memory of bright lights, big talk and speed
and I dream this dream all day,
I dream this dream,
with one slow
exhalation

salenagodden.co.uk

 

Lines Composed in a Wood on a Windy Day
by Anne Brontë

My soul is awakened, my spirit is soaring
And carried aloft on the wings of the breeze
For above and around me the wild wind is roaring,
Arousing to rapture the earth and the seas.

The long withered grass in the sunshine is glancing,
The bare trees are tossing their branches on high;
The dead leaves beneath them are merrily dancing,
The white clouds are scudding across the blue sky.

I wish I could see how the ocean is lashing
The foam of its billows to whirlwinds of spray;
I wish I could see how its proud waves are dashing
And hear the wild road of their thunder to-day!

poetryfoundation.org/poets/anne-bronte

 

Functional Skills Maths
by Helen Cadbury

If there are 4.5 litres in a gallon and
Gary’s car does 52 miles to the gallon and
there’s a petrol station 5 kilometres away,
where petrol is 2p per litre cheaper,
is it worth Gary making the extra journey?

When Gary pulls onto the ring-road
he senses a darker side,
beyond the edge of sodium town.
He knows the woods are waiting for him,
flicking stars between their fingertips.
He perks in a lay-by, leaves the car,
eyes wide to the deep, black heart of the wood,
and just like in a fairy tale,
he is never seen again.

You must show your workings, you must
explain assumptions used.
Values must be clearly stated.

valleypressuk.com/author/76/helen_cadbury

 

Ana Sampson studied English Literature at the University of Sheffield and gained a BA and MA before starting a career in publishing. She has worked in publicity in publishing for almost twenty years, and has been editing poetry anthologies since 2009, most recently She Is Fierce (Macmillan, 2018). She writes and speaks often about poetry in the media, and has spoken about poetry and publishing at literary festivals, bookshop events, libraries and schools. She lives in Surrey with her husband, two young daughters and two middle-aged cats. She Will Soar: Bright, Brave Poems of Freedom by Women is published in hardback and eBook by Macmillan.
Read more
anasampson.co.uk
@AnaBooks

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