Poetry review: 12/12/20
"I urge you to read this collection to your sons and daughters, your pupils, your workmates, your granddad and anyone else who will listen."
Bloody Amazing is a beautifully produced collection of taboo smashing poems, with rich red pages and a stunning cover of a woman leading you into a fairy tale forest. What follows is a journey through poetry about periods (the fact of them and the lack of them.)
Organised alphabetically by first name, there is a strange sense of time travelling: jumping from menopause to first periods and back again. One moment you are in a lyrical tale of powerful womanhood and the next, a heart-breaking factual account of shame. I liked this lack of classification. It kept me on my toes, moving me from recognition to rage, to celebration, to pain.
Recurring themes shed a light on the impact of education and attitude on how half the world sees themselves and their bodies. For those whose experience of a first period came as a shock, something to be hidden - an original sin - the poems tell of ongoing trauma: something akin to post traumatic stress. Menstruation is a monster, often violent and always an unwelcome darkness that must be endured.
‘sopping pads wrapped chip shop tight
nightly burning shame’
In contrast, many of the poems are songs of celebration: cloaked in the lyricism and magic of myth with the power of nature channelled by the enduring sisterhood of women.
‘This midwinter she gave me a crimson gift.
I bled out the worst of the year,
moved with the tides, remembering salt and iron.’
Talk of witches and witchcraft suggest that there is more to this bleeding than the shedding of a womb lining, than biological diagrams and tampons shoved up sleeves.
‘It was a flax-ranch on the run
where I bumped into a spinning witch.
One swirl was enough, I fainted asleep,
all around blushing silence.’
There is celebration in menopause too: new freedoms that come with the unburdening,
‘how do you feel?
bloody amazing, I say,
The strength of this collection is the breadth of experience: the sadness of periods stopping and with them the chance of a child; the cruelty of girls mocking in a school bathroom; the touching tale of a dad doing everything right; the comedy of a menstrual cup or the frustration of a woman born into male biology.
My own life as told in monthly periods is unremarkable, thankfully. Despite being irritating and messy, I was given the facts, always had access to sanitary towels, showers, paracetamol. I have been able to get pregnant without medical treatment and only feel desperately sad for about one day a month. I am also reasonably comfortable in the biological body I was born in. Unfortunately, this pretty low bar is not the experience of so many girls and women.
Even in our rich capitalist country, there are girls who avoid school once a month because of period poverty. Sanitary towels and tampons are still taxed as luxury products in England while our more progressive neighbours in Scotland have recently passed legislation to make them free for everyone who needs them. Women and girls are shamed across the world: remain uneducated about menstruation, are barred from religious buildings and marital beds, called unclean. If you need further encouragement to break taboos and rekindle rage against patriarchal cruelty and control, watch the short documentary Period. End of a Sentence.
I urge you to read this collection to your sons and daughters, your pupils, your workmates, your granddad and anyone else who will listen. We owe it to future generations to smash these taboos together. As it says on the cover…it’s about bleeding time.
‘Unclean! Girl flu. Birthing a blood diamond. Code Red,
let’s shed the embarrassment of slang. Come on, let’s call it what it is.
Review: Sarah Hehir
Bloody Amazing website