On reading Nikita Gill
Oh! What a relief
To find myself,
Reflected back at me
Without the corsets
Of manned constraints,
Unlaced to let me breath.
I can freely exhale
My own experience
Reflected back at me.
All those years at school learning the lines of Dulce et Decorum Est, limping on blood shod through the ecstasy of fumbling to the froth corrupted lungs. Or leaning upon the coppice gate when frost was spectre-grey.
I loved, still love, those poems, Owen’s bravery speaking out at the old lie, Hardy’s landscapes, Heaney’s country life in blackberries and thatching, Manley Hopkin’s Windhover, Hughes’s wind rattling the windows to come in. These were the lines which coloured my semi-detached life and my turquoise, crimplene school uniform.
When I was wearing my own, poor black-not-quite-goth clothes in a northern Poly I found Plath’s ‘Daddy, I have had to kill you/ You have died before I had time..’ And Emily Dickinson’s ‘I felt a funeral in my brain’ and was glad to have found women at last, even though it is Eliot’s epic Wasteland which still colonises my brain.
But it was only this Christmas, when my WhatsApped festive wishes were granted and I finally found myself amongst women I felt I knew. Nikita Gill’s Fierce Fairytales and Rupi Kaur’s Milk and Honey, it was like finding my own thoughts on paper.
Such truths; ‘You should never love anyone more than your own children’ and advice to marry the man you would want to raise your sons to be like. Experiences of love and loss, of lust, of lasciviousness, of abuse, of power, of weakness, of what it is to be a woman in today’s world. Written in language I could connect with, with doodles I could relate to, with a humility and confusion I recognise.
And it is only having found the thing I have not had, that I have found what I was missing. I have missed the mirror these poems have given me. I have missed finding my experience captured in someone else’s words, have missed the sense of connection that this brings; ‘You too? Me Too’. It is such a relief to find something more universal projected from my particularity.
So it seems
That the patriarchy
Had invaded poetry too.
Had taken my experience
And locked it with pentameters,
Throwing away the iambic key,
Leaving me to sink beneath
The rhyme and rhythm,
The tightly knitted sonnet
The meandering ballad,
The tightly clenched haiku,
When all I really wanted to read
What was real
Finding my experience, put into someone else’s words not only helps me feel less alone and more understood, it gives me back my experience anew, allows me to look at it from a different angle, with added perspective and wisdom. Thank God women’s voices and stories are increasingly being heard.
Here’s the books I loved below and also, if you missed the launch of Into the Woods or any of the radio stuff, you can catch up on it all here: https://www.julieleoni.com/media/
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Thanks for being here.