I was talking about being at the Crossbones Graveyard yesterday. Amongst those speaking there on International Women’s Day was Simon Hughes MP and Valerie Shawcross AM, London Assembly Member for Lambeth & Southwark. Val said that she had an ‘angry feminist poem’ to read out, something that she had written for the occasion. Listening to her, there in the street, outside the graveyard where so many women, excluded, exploited women, had been buried over the centuries, I thought that it was worth seeing if I could share her thoughts more widely. Kindly Val said I could – so here is her ‘angry feminist poem’ (her words not mine) – performed by her yesterday.
Deep beneath the soil and skin of Southwark lies within,
the scaffolding of life, our kin.
Our family women’s bones,
their stories soaked with the rain of a hundred decades and,
always cold, never ever told.
At dead of night below the traffic hiss,
of electric lights and London mists,
hear the whispers of their songs –
we are with you and before too long you will remember us
and recall –
without us women you’d have nothing at all.
They kept beloved struggling straggling children fed,
by allowing men with money into their bed.
They lost the fight for life in every way
and yet still next day they came to wash the tears,
the dirt and the blood away.
Even today I know your sisters and where they stay,
force-locked in houses and beaten,
unschooled, and they pray
like you that their daughters will get away.
So what do we modern women do?
Do we wear a suit and pretend to be the new senior man in the church,
or bend the rules on the bankermans floor –
do you small talk the political bore?
Do you ever hear yourself say with cupboards overflowing
I haven’t got a thing to wear today?
She is whispering below, she is saying
don’t thank those men that around you stand,
they have given women nothing out of their hand.
Your life and freedom was my gift so now your turn,
divest your fears, and fight our fight –
give life to our girls and do it with all a women’s might.