Furies: A Poetry Anthology of Women Warriors - Edited by Eve Lacey (For Books’ Sake - 2014)
It is encouraging to come across a poetry anthology that is not only dedicated to empowering women and girls to tell their story but is also donating its profits to a charitable organisation such as Rape Crisis England and Wales. I am sure everyone agrees that aggressive acts against women are deplorable yet they are not only common but also exist on many levels. Take for instance the shocking discovery that the grooming of young girls up and down the country has been wilfully ignored by authorities, not to mention the ongoing issue of domestic violence as well as abuse based on sexist comments on social media etc.etc.etc. To speak up and draw attention to such subjects is now as important as ever. Moreover, these poems provide an exceptional perspective on the topic.
The seventy odd poems, written by thirty-eight poets, bring much diversity to the subject matter. Jenni Fagan states the obvious when she writes in her foreword that "it is hard to talk about rape" and therefore it is even harder to write about it whether it is written from personal experience or through identifying with the victims. The editor, Eve Lacey, suggests that what these poems have in common is that "each [poet] rewrote another aspect of womanhood, and every one succeeded in our aim: to take a sinner and spin her anew." Consequently this anthology is inundated with excellent rewritings of old myths yet perhaps not all poems go far enough in revealing new departures.
The contributors include well-known names and widely published poets such as Helen Mort, Angela Readman, Patience Agbabi, Vahni Capildeo and Malika Booker, to mention but a few. The impressive list of acknowledgements shows that many poems have previously been published elsewhere which in turn can be taken as an indication of the work’s merit. Arguably, neither these poems nor their authors would have been in need of a foreword as well as a lengthy introduction to make them accessible. For some mysterious reason the work in this anthology is structured in six sections with the headings 'shoal', 'garden', 'feral', 'entrails', 'myth' and 'resurrection'.
There is an unmistakable force behind some of the work that makes the reader sit up. Let me quote a few lines from the poem ‘Nerrivik’ by Susan Richardson:
Remember - one shrug of my shoulder can cause
a four-day storm. I can calve bergs
with the smallest sneeze.
Or the poem by Jenifer Browne Lawrence entitled ‘Fishing I Lose Another’:
[I] ate berries that stained
my fingers the shade of your veins.
The title Furies is a reference to the daughters of Gaia, heroic warrior women fighting for justice and vengeance. This menacing threat is no doubt meant figuratively, not least as aggression can hardly be remedied by counter aggression. However, the notions of 'vengeance' and 'poetic justice' are at best a sobering reminder that there is a lack of actual justice. Still, these epic stories do capture the imagination and this volume of poems is full with versions of legendary women right across religion and mythology. Poems such as ‘Rhea's Revenge’, ‘Medusa’, ‘Ophelia's Curse’, ‘Salome's First Kiss’, ‘Lilith's Love Song to the Monk’, ‘Gaia's Autumn’ and ‘Mary Magdalene gives an Exclusive Interview’ clearly invoke such female archetypes.
The more the poets take poetic licence with these archaic dames the more they have a powerful and moving impact on the reader. The poems work best when a fresh perspective is adopted and when they allow for original metaphors that are rooted in inspired empathy. Other poems are explicitly grounded in concrete events and enhanced with myths as in the poems ‘Greenham Common 1985’ or ‘A Letter to the Coroner in the Voice of Marian Parker’. These poems are often set in a distancing past which makes their messages tangible but less acute.
The subjects touched on in this book are now as vitally important as they have always been which in turn justifies the use of mythology. There are, however, a couple of minor drawbacks that come with it. The first underlying dilemma is that unfortunately myths by definition imply the notion of semi-truth. This association is not overly productive in this particular context as only too often the statements of rape victims and those suffering domestic violence are not been taken seriously by third parties. The fear of ambivalent factuality is part of the problem when it comes to reporting and eradicating such incidences. This minor glitch does not affect the beauty of the poems themselves.
Secondly, myths are problematic because they are timeless and thus by rewriting them we might accidently reinforce the chains that have held women back rather than setting them free. As myths deal with static archetypes they don't take easily to groundbreaking innovations but at best adjust existing preconceptions. Alas, Leda will always get a raw deal from the swan, there cannot be two ways about it, even if she should renounce her name and call herself Lida, as alluded to in one of the poems. Although this anthology gives us much food for thought, there is an uneasy relationship between the chosen format and its stated purpose, namely to give women more credibility and new narratives.
The spirit that is responsible for the publication of this book is nothing short of entrepreneurial. It is the second brainchild of For Books' Sake, Cambridge and the hardback copies were apparently sold out within days. This said, there is no indication of how many copies were actually printed in the first place. So far the anthology has not been reprinted though and therefore Furies is at present only available as ebook. Still, it is empowering to empower and it is all for a very noble cause. Besides, I am sure you too will give this anthology an A plus for effort and good intentions.