Naomi Simpson reviews the bold and exciting reimagining of The Taming of the Shrew at the RSCWritten by Naomi Simpson on 5th April 2019
REVIEW: Birmingham Literature Festival: #MeToo, A Movement in Poetry
Amber Allcock and Mollie Johnson review the 'moment of change' that was the #MeToo event at Birmingham Literature Festival
The #MeToo movement spread virally in October 2017, demonstrating and exposing the shocking frequency of sexual assaults and harassments, particularly in the workplace. Tied inextricably to the sexual misconduct allegations against Harvey Weinstein, the Movement aimed to unify women who had been victims of sexual assault with the intention of empowering them. Millions of people used the hashtag, revealing the extent of the issue and how many women had suffered and experienced similar incidents.
Deborah Alma, the collection’s editor, describes #MeToo: A Women’s Poetry Anthology, as a “rallying against sexual assault and harassment”. The poems included in the collection are painful and angry as the poets come together to form a sisterhood of survivors. The poems which came as a greater surprise to the audience were those which illuminated perspectives which are often disregarded in the #MeToo movement. Pat Edwards shed light unto a male perspective in the movement, highlighting the persona’s solidarity with women who had experienced sexual assault. It was this variety of perspectives that made the collection stand out amongst myriad attestations which continue to emerge in 2018, creating an empowering and intimate evening.
“the event emphasised how ‘everyday’ the contents of the poems are
Twenty-four individual speakers took the audience on a journey as they read from the anthology. Poems ranged from the abstract to the explicit, documenting their experiences. Five poets, whose work featured in the anthology, were included in the speakers: Angela Topping, Jhilmil Breckenridge, Pat Edwards, Kathy Gee and Sian Norris. Members of the public were also invited to read, emphasising how ‘everyday’ the contents of the poems are. The five poets read out a poem or two that they had written whilst the members of the public infiltrated the audience, standing up amongst them and delivering their poems. Their presence in the audience – although admittedly a little unorganised - helped to further accentuate the notion that almost every woman has experienced something which enables them to tweet #MeToo and use their voice to enact change.
In the post-reading questions, the poets discussed the changing environment for female poets and how writing styles have evolved from the abstract to the explicit as a result of a need to be less ambiguous when wanting to inspire change. Angela Topping particularly expressed this, as she noted that the movement places great emphasis on the freedom of women’s voices, which should be used powerfully to confront the audience with the hard-hitting realities of their experiences.
“Birmingham Literature Festival was documenting a moment of change
One audience member asked what the poets and organisers of the evening expected the movement to achieve. Sian Norris, chair of the event, political activist and poet, noted that aside from legislativechanges, she sees the actual physical copy of the anthology itself as an achievement. Whilst news by its very nature comes and goes, they all agreed that the tangibility of the collection being in print allows women’s voices to be heard, and reiterates that women will no longer be silenced.
Birmingham Literature Festival was documenting a moment of change. This event provided a safe space for women and men to listen to others’ stories and tell their own; allowing the conversation to continue whilst also promoting the publication of the anthology.