Back in February there was a Suffragette Exhibition at The Hive in Worcester. I took the opportunity to provide an impromptu poetry workshop based on the Library Exhibits. 12 people attended and a few more visited the exhibition and wrote from the workshop prompts and research links I shared. Here is a selection of the resulting work.
Soak half a pound of dried apricots all night in just enough cold water to cover them.
Everything is worth waiting for Ma says, I haven’t yet mastered patience.
The cold water went everywhere, had to fetch the mop, not easy in the dark.
By the time I climbed into bed I was freezing, shivering with worry over tomorrow.
Next morning add some sugar, and stew until tender.
The sweetness of sugar can absorb pain, if I was a Doctor
I would prescribe a sugar cube for every ailment.
But I can’t be a Doctor, being a woman is such a bore.
Dad says I would make a good nurse, I think being a Tom boy helps.
You won’t catch me fainting at the sight of blood!
The apricots are not the only fruit stewing, Milly is late calling for me,
perhaps her parents discovered her plans do not involve window shopping.
Well butter a pudding bowl, and scatter brown sugar on bottom.
I pound the soft butter as if it is all it’s fault.
The bowl is well buttered.
I turn my hand to buttering the bread, I always use too much,
take pleasure in scraping it off onto the next slice.
Often this is someone’s neck.
I scatter the brown sugar thinking of weddings, showers of confetti
I almost forget the bread.
Line it thoroughly with bread buttered, and pour apricots in when ready.
I place the bread carefully like flowers at the graveside.
The apricots may be ready but I don’t think I ever will be.
Milly should be here, if she doesn’t come soon I fear I will back out.
I want to fight, we don’t choose to be born girls or boys, it is grossly unfair.
Press plate on top and put into oven for half an hour,
This my last job before I leave, Ma’s idea.
‘Bake something sweet it will make your news more palable to father.’
Ma will take it from the oven it will turn out nice and brown,
give the man some medicine as he chews over my news.
‘Our daughter. One of them!’
I can hear him in my ears as I get my hat and gloves.
Serve with sweet sauce and it will be delightful.
Just as I will delight in serving now.
I am Sweet Sauce, Apricot Charlotte, strong woman who knows
better than to hide her placard in the yard.
Marching for Women as one woman is left to bravely unfold
her daughter’s secret. With stale bread and dried stoneless fruit,
we hope to soften father.
I pray he will be soaking overnight when I get home.
This poem is a ‘Coupling’ (Karen McCarthy Woolf) the original text was from this website of Original War Time Recipes and used in my workshop.
Nina Lewis is published in anthologies, magazines and online. Her poems have been used in Art Installations and Poetry Trails. Her debut pamphlet Fragile Houses was published by V. Press 2016. She is a Lead Writer for Writing West Midlands and the current Worcestershire Poet Laureate.
© Museum of London
Deeds Not Words
Inspired by Emily Wilding Davison,
Suffragette, died June 8th, 1913
Dear Joan of Arc,
my wreath left at your feet
marks you undefeated.
Your spark lives on,
igniting the tinder of my resolve.
Sisters, Women’s Social Political Union,
stand up now,
I pledge today, Derby Day,
will turn heads
against blind-gendered minds
with our vision against division.
You will see.
You will be proud.
If I’m arrested they’ll say,
About her person was:
One half a railway ticket
[will I return?]
Stamps, envelopes, writing paper
[but most important]
A helper’s pass.
A marked-up race card ready,
but crowning these parading beasts
proves an impossible feat.
The race is on
slip under the rail
hooves pounding at me
heavy panting horseflesh
cheering crowds now jeering
my eyes fix on the prize –
King George’s gallop.
Rush forward – duck – reach up,
our sash ready for his bridle…
Dear Joan, you would be proud.
You would be proud.
Frances March was the Winner of the 2017 Gloucestershire Writers’ Network Poetry Competition. Her poems are widely published, recently in: Snakeskin, Gooddadhood.com, World Refugee Day and Freedom Poetry (WPL) and New York Times Poetry Blog Jan 2017.
I have Frances to thank for the idea of celebrating this Centenary.
A surge of boaters and long frocks
put a strain on the rails at Tattenham corner
initially eager to see
which thoroughbred led the classic.
Excitement turned to shock and horror
as three bodies lay silent still.
Also on the hoof dug turf
manicured for the sport of kings,
lay a banner with words embroidered
Votes For Women,
A battle cry to be heard by all.
People had watched frozen and helpless
as Emily stood in militant action.
Horses flashed with power and grace
just as they had been trained to do
unable to avoid Emily’s action
poor Anmer hit her at full pace.
No longer on board, the skilful jockey
Herbert Jones lay on his face.
Emily had rejected laws of men
that trapped her gender,
With comrades in hunger strikes had protested
though force-fed with
Holloway’s mental morals,
her beliefs she held firmer.
And Women’s Social Political Union
though it had lost one of its finest,
would get the justice struggle demanded.
Never the same, paying the price
a victim of the impact of struggle,
Herbert Jones died of depression
though not before his finest deed.
Thirteen years on a wreath he laid
in memory of Emily and her action,
and all her comrades who had carried
banners and sashes made by Bromsgrove brothers,
Votes For Women embroidered on.
Tony Raybould was born and raised in the Black Country and spent his early working life in its heavy industries. He later became a social worker including working for Worcestershire. He is new to writing and recently joined Bewdley’s writing group.
© Museum of London
White card in hand,
I wonder if it’s worth the walk.
I sigh, set out, irresolute.
Behind me gather female forms
Who walk in silence,
Closed ranks of fiery hats and skirts.
Determined to the final drop
Of force-fed food, of unfair fate.
They urge me on into the booth;
Stand back, as stubby pencil poised,
I place my cross.
A simple deed, no need for words.
Sue Conway grew up in Surrey before migrating to Wales and then the North of England where she taught for many years. Throughout that time, she wrote to help her class catch the writing bug. Now retired in Worcester, she wants to pursue her love of writing further.
A letter for H H Asquith
A bird needs both wings in order to fly
Men and women were created equal
in the sight of God.
Both are needed to make our country great
but women are not valued enough
to be allowed to vote.
They run homes, raise future generations
but their opinions are considered less worthy
than those of men who are drunkards
lunatics and convicted criminals.
Your government will never be truly Liberal
until the women of Great Britain are given a voice.
© Droitwich Advertiser
I was arrested for chalking on the pavement.
I was at school with the policeman who rough-handled me,
saw him in chapel on Sundays, recognised the looks he cast
when he thought I wasn’t looking.
I sat in a police cell to await my trial
feeling afraid of what was to come.
I wondered what I’d done that had been so wrong.
As a child I’d chalked on pavements all the time
mainly games of hopscotch and Queen’s Castle
or pictures of princesses with jewels in their hair.
It was the words ‘Votes for Women’ that stirred them up –
same chalk, same place just different shapes.
Florence Eliza Feek
“Forward sister women!
Onward ever more.
Bondage is behind you
freedom is before.”
My father would have recognised the tune to ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’
but not the words. I was 33, not married. Nine of us were arrested for trying
to gain access to the House of Commons to talk to Mr Asquith.
At Bow Street Magistrates Court we were charged with obstruction
and sentenced to a month in prison.
I spoke out, refused to be bound over.
“I’m a political prisoner,” I said.
We sang our anthems; the notes of the Womens’ Marseillaise
vibrated against the chill stone prison walls,
crystallised our resolve to stay true to the cause.
On release we spoke about our experiences,
a banner proclaiming ‘From Prison to Citizenship’ on the stage behind us.
Later I turned away from militancy and aggression,
pursued my aims for women’s suffrage by peaceful means
one step at a time.
Sue Johnson is a poet, short story writer and novelist. Her work is inspired by walking in the countryside near her home, reading fairy-tales and eavesdropping in cafes. Sue is a Writing Magazine Creative Writing Tutor. Further details of her work can be found at www.writers-toolkit.co.uk
The Good Woman’s Home and Family Magazine Recipe Competition Winner, February 1918
- Soak half a pound of inequality overnight in a pint of cold male contempt
- Next morning, add a half-cup of condescension and stir well
- Cut a block of The Natural Order of Things into pieces and bring to a low simmer
- Add the hot liquid oppression to the mixture, stirring until no visible lumps remain
- Grease a deep basin with a good measure of injustice and pour in the batter
- Bake at one hundred degrees until the sponge is firm, golden and does not give way under pressure
- Once done, remove from the oven and smash a window to quicken the cooling time
- To dislodge a stubborn pudding, rinse the upturned bowl with up to four waves of feminism
- Heat a splash of rage and make a fire-bomb of the sweet fruit topping
- Serve with custard, a sprinkle of sugar and a ballot paper.
Elisabeth Alain lives in Worcestershire, raising two daughters and writing short stories and poetry. Her work has appeared in poetry anthology ‘Please Hear What I’m Not Saying’, and online in ‘The Cabinet of Heed’, ‘Paragraph Planet’, ‘The Drabble’ and ‘Dear Damsels’. elisabethalain.wordpress.com
Part of me detaches,
is placed inside a
leather pouch and
through the telegraph
wires of time
Arriving on a
women meet, chalking
of work worn feet
Smells of smoke,
This future, free
her vote for granted
The determined gaze
of my ancestors
Cramped soles of her boots are worn
scarred rhythms of marching streets
skirt hems are tattered and torn,
by the determined fire of her feet.
Scarred rhythms of marching streets
she petitions the town to hear
by the determined fire of her feet
strong women’s voices ring clear
She petitions the town to hear
by the cutting of telegraph wire
strong women’s voices ring clear,
worried voting men conspire
By the cutting of telegraph wire
skirt hems are tattered and torn
worried voting men conspire,
cramped soles of her boots are worn.
The Young Suffragette
Father tells me I’m not old enough
to know my mind, that it’s a passing whim
to fill my time before the right young man
comes to flood my thoughts with wedding plans,
that I’ll forget this silliness
when housekeeping and motherhood
set me on a woman’s proper path.
Mother tells me I should be content
with what I’ve got, a stable life
in which I’ll be protected, with no need
to worry at the world outside
or want to take an interest
in politics and world affairs,
beyond a woman’s proper path.
Aunt tells me that I’ll turn myself
into a seething harridan,
and no young man would ever want
a wife neglecting household tasks
to speak at public meetings, or parade
with banners in the civic square,
and I’ll remain a spinster, full of spite,
far from a woman’s proper path.
Well let them speak; I won’t take their advice.
I’m going to the meeting anyway
for tea and cake and interesting talk,
debating new ideas, new books, new schemes
to take us from the curtained drawing-room
out to the ballot box, to change the world –
whatever it takes, what sacrifice there is
that must be made, we’re standing up,
we’re speaking out, our voices loud and clear
calling to the future, not the past,
and unafraid and confident, we’ll show them all
exactly what is Woman’s proper path.
Suz Winspear was Worcestershire Poet Laureate 2016-17, and is Poet-in-Residence at the Museum of Royal Worcester. She is a well-known performer on the Worcestershire spoken word scene, with a distinctive Gothic style. She lives in a disused church, and doesn’t see daylight very often.
1909 Recipe for Apricot (haired) Charlotte (Marsh)
Used for a protest at being excluded, as a woman, from Bingley Hall, Birmingham where the Prime Minister was giving a speech. (haired)
The evening before, bathe and soak for sound sleep all night in a bed just warm enough for comfort.
Next morning dress and stew the plan until it’s fully understood.
Well sharpen your axe; climb on to the roof, and lever up tiles to scatter with force over Asquith’s car and any police officers in sight near the bottom of the building.
Line up with the others – don a buttered smile and be ready for custodial violence.
Once in prison, press to be treated as political prisoner – which should turn out favourably.
If not, go on hunger strike! Gird your loins if you’re one of the first to be forcibly served their sweet sauce – it’s far from delightful!
(A Found Poem)
Do not trust the House of Commons!
Do not believe politicians spouting standards
on the care of women prisoners. Listen
to inside accounts of a medical inspector
never in the best of tempers –
who cares less about the manner of treatment
and more about applauding callousness – about
meal, after liquid meal to take more agony
from a rubber tube ramming already swollen,
inflamed nasal passages – that bleed bleed
on the tube, wiped afterwards and left in an open
basket-tray in the reception-room – exposed
incoming prisoners undressing – donning
Listen – I know the glass funnel is always
cloudy and dirty in the doctor’s high hand
when he heralds the liquid
at the end of the long rammed-in-tube.
Listen to me – I’m Dorothy Pethwick of Newcastle.
I know the carelessness of doctors the tube…
the tube is not kept in boracic solution dirt free
as the House of Common states.
This poem was found in text from: Suffragettes: The Fight for Votes for Women edited by Joyce Marlow. Published by Virago (2015) p:100.
Margaret Adkins will complete her degree in Creative Writing & English Literature at Worcester University this summer. Her poems appear in various online magazines and four anthologies, including This Is Not Your Final Form (Emma Press 2017). She had a poem commended in the Welshpool Poetry Competition 2017.
Deeds and Words
In the brittle years between the wars,
she roared the language of patriarchy
to demand improved maternity care.
“Our women, daily, hourly
are going over the top.
Women risk death from childbirth
as men did in the trenches.”
She knew the pain of loss,
a son stillborn,
she’d count the cost
‘gainst all her privilege.
though other children
blessed her motherhood,
the urgent need for
a national maternity service,
’til victory was won.
A maternity hospital,
named in her honour,
her gift to Stourport- On- Severn.
Inscribed above the door,
‘What she wanted most in the world.’
Deeds and words
enabling safe delivery
of my four siblings and me.
Countess mothers and babies kept from harm.
A peaceful post-war baby boom,
and we grew strong
on welfare orange juice.
Deeds and words.
Deeds and words.
Poem based on Lucy Baldwin, The Right Honourable The Countess of Bewdley G.B.E, D. St. J.
The Suffragette Anthology is a work in progress. Throughout April and May the collection will be updated, so please come back to find new poems over the next six weeks.
Many thanks to all our contributors and workshop participants. The Anthology collection will be complete by the end of May.