Imagine a Woman
Imagine a woman who believes it is right and good she is a woman,
A woman who honours her experiences and tells her stories,
Who refuses to carry the sins of others within her body and her life.
Imagine a woman who believes she is good,
A woman who trusts and respects herself,
Who listens to her needs and desires, and meets them
With tenderness and grace.
Imagine a woman who has acknowledged the past's influence on the present,
A woman who has walked through her past,
Who has healed into the present.
Imagine a woman who authors her own life,
A woman who exerts, initiates and moves on her own behalf,
Who refuses to surrender except to her truest self and to her wisest voice.
Imagine a woman who names her own gods,
A woman who imagines the divine in her image and likeness,
Who designs her own spirituality and allows it to inform her daily life.
Imagine a woman who is in love with her own body,
A woman who believes her body is enough, just as it is,
Who celebrates her body and its rhythms and cycles as an exquisite resource.
Imagine a woman who honours the face of the Goddess in her changing face,
A woman who celebrates the accumulation of her years and her wisdom,
Who refuses to use precious energy disguising the changes in her body and life.
Imagine a woman who values the women in her life,
A woman who sits in circles of women,
Who is reminded of the truth about herself when she forgets.
Imagine you are this woman...
© Patricia Lynn Reilly, 1995
Here is a poem for International Women’s Day. This one is a spell, in my opinion, a little piece of word-magic; read it and feel yourself expand into places you didn’t know were uninhabited.
Even in the West where women, more or less, have equal rights, there’s still a kind of colonisation of women’s minds by the masculine. The default view of the world is still a men's view and women’s experience is marginalized even though it is fundamental to the human species.
Poetry, for instance, has been dominated by male poets for centuries. The poet Kate Clanchy says: “ Poets must read before they write and for the woman poet this means reading mostly male poets. A woman poet inherits the corpus of poetry equally, in theory, just as she now has equal rights under the law. But, just as women are still actively carving out real equality under the law, so women poets must work to inscribe themselves on poetry. It is harder for the women poet to find echoes of her own experience in the corpus of poetry, harder to hear something which sounds like her own voice. Of course this affects the way women write.”
Love poetry is littered with references to the beloved: her golden tresses, her breasts, her thighs, her lips, her soft voice, the way she moves. How do women describe the physical and mental attributes of men –and other women - that they find attractive? It is not easy to think of any poems that do this. And just as the portrayal of women in films influences how we see ourselves today, the images of women in poetry must also have influenced the way women see themselves.
Kate Clanchy states that the female experience of love and passion has been a taboo in poetry and that “women poets have responded either by omission or subversion. Emily Dickinson wrote of love deferred, permanently impossibly, ‘on the shelf’; Elizabeth Barrett Browning pretended her poems were translated ‘From the Portuguese’; Elizabeth Bishop avoided the topic; Stevie Smith preferred cats. It takes until the last half of the 20th Century, until Sylvia Plath and the great Anne Sexton really began to write about female desire in all it glory and enormity.”
The subject of motherhood has also been lacking in the canon. Even recently Kate’s collection Newborn was met by reviewers with comments on the unsuitability of the topic: “either because it was too conservative, or too happy, or, mostly, because it involved me talking about myself. It still offends, it seems, for a mother to talk about her love, or even more to talk about her lack of love – though when it comes to men in love talking about themselves it’s considered a classic poem.” 1
I remember being moved reading a poem by Frances Horovitz, For Adam, nearly twelve, in which she describes an incident similar to one I had had myself: “Driving home/ a lorry tailed too closely/ down a hill./From my rear mirror/ it seemed huge cab/ and tyres one inch away/ from you, asleep./ I drew in./ Trembling at the wheel/ I wept and swore/ at all machines and men/ that threatened you..” 2 And I was struck by how unusual it was to read in a poem something that described in such a particular way the fears and fierce love of motherhood. It made me feel – what? Strengthened, added to, in some indefinable way. The experience being not ‘just’ something to be shared within the subculture of other mothers but the subject of published poetry and in the public domain.
So, women’s experience is marginalized and yet is fundamental to the human species. A paradox. But there is power at the heart of every paradox.
Recite this poem to yourself and, wherever you are, feel yourself expand like the sails of a ship energised by the wind. Where do you want to go? Whatever we are restricted by, there are no restrictions to the imagination. So, imagine a woman… a woman who honours her experiences and tells her stories...
1 All quotes by Kate Clanchy from Dividing Lines, Mslexia 24, (2005), 20-23
2 Frances Horovitz, Collected Poems, Bloodaxe Books, 1985
To coincide with International Women’s Day, ActionAid are releasing a unique haiku poetry book. See me, Hear me, Read me brings together the voices of internationally-celebrated women (including Dame Judi Dench, Julie Waters, Yoko Ono, Carol Ann Duffy and Bonnie Greer) and inspiring women they work with around the world.
Voices for change
This collection of poems is a celebration of the resilience, humour and hope of women everywhere, but it also highlights the struggles they face on a daily basis.
Alongside the haikus are portraits of women they work with and facts to put the poems in context.
See me, Hear me, Read me will be available to buy on International Women's Day (8 March) priced at £15. You can order your copy here.