“Are you reviewing it?” she asked.
“No, I feel awkward” I replied.
#MeToo is a collection of poems written by women, about women’s experiences with men, carrying a powerful foreword by MP Jess Phillips. It is not an easy read. It is, however, a rewarding and essential read. Although the theme is constant, the experiences are disparate and diverse, a crystal ball of innocence shattered into a myriad jagged, angular, irregular pieces.
Editor Deborah Alma, whose original facebook posts were the unplanned genesis of this project, has assembled them into seven chapters as loose groupings. In so doing, she has succeeded in creating a pleasing narrative flow . I was struck by how little polemic there was in these poems. That is their strength. Dozens of little stories telling a big story. The collection could have evolved into a literary companion to Gloria Gaynor’s torch song, “I Will Survive”. Alma wisely eschews that option. The power lies not in a unified entity, but in the rough, brittle, sharp, edges of each one of those shattered shards.
The stories, worthy though they are, are not enough. This is a poetry collection. The key question is, “Are the poems any good?” The answer is yes. Readers will recognise some contributions from amongst the most eminent of contemporary female poets, they will also be struck by the cogency and veritas of writers whose names may not be known, but whose writing on the subject deserves to be heard.
Rhyme is almost entirely absent, it is as though the content has stripped the songs from their heart. Sally Jenkinson’s contributions are written in staccato couplets. Their bone lean framework carrying a potent punch. “Nervous”, with its, “That’s how you win the game/ You just have to tolerate it” a witheringly effective tour de force.
There are some lines, and poems to make you smile too. Natalie Whittaker’s, “To the Giant Ground Sloth in the Natural History Museum” is amongst the pick of them, inspired in its allegory.
The contributions from the heavyweights do not disappoint. Jane Commane’s “Bitch” is a masterclass in control, Helen Ivory’s “Scolds Bridal “ savage in its brevity, Helen Mort’s “My Fault” is my favourite, cinematically zooming in at the start, before pulling back to reveal the big picture.
Initially I did feel awkward about the prospect of commenting on this work, wary about what to say. Yet if this collection ends up being a collection by women, for women only, that would be a shame. It deserves a fifty per cent larger audience. It is effective in numerous respects. It is an authentic, first person, contribution to the #metoo debate. It serves as both a lightning rod, and rallying flag, for those touched by it. It has literary merit, and substance, in its own right. It reaches out by means of its humanity to a male audience who should not feel alienated by the subject matter.
This fine collection, published by Fairacre Press necessarily compiled in short time, is a valuable extension , and exploration of, a movement which has come of age.