100 voices for 100 years – my story

 

When I was eight, back in the eighties, women’s suffrage barely registered on my horizon. (I’m confident it wouldn’t have been a complete unknown, thanks to an avowedly feminist mother, who had me doing a school project on the Pankhursts before I was ten…..) However, one significant event in my life – being “matched” with my first and longest-lasting penpal – was indeed eventually to tie in with what is now the 100th anniversary of (some) British women receiving the right to vote.

Some would say that even in twenty-first century Britain, we still have some way to go. The gender pay gap, only now being raised to real public visibility as a consequence of new company reporting requirements, and the #MeToo movement are just two contemporary examples. Moreover, women still lack the visibility that is accorded to men almost as a birthright. All too frequently relegated to supporting (or sexual partner) roles in Hollywood films or forcibly retired from prime time television slots when male contemporaries are not, we are apparently supposed to find solace in our literary representation by male authors and rejoice as our small daughters are showered in unicorns, rainbow and glitter.

It was to address the dual goals of marking the centenary of women’s partial enfranchisement and raising the visibility of some of today’s women and girls that Miranda, a writer and performer from Hackney, set up 100 voices for 100 years. Over 100 days, 100 women share a short story from their lives. The stories are recorded orally, and listeners can hear a new one every day. (Transcripts are also available.)

My story – A Future in Mid-Flight – is here. It’s about that early and very dear friendship. For fifteen years, my friend and I wrote to each other, growing up together through our shared words, laughing, crying, planning and hoping together – and then she was gone. She’s now been gone for longer than I knew her; soon she’ll have been gone for longer than she was alive. I still have her words, though, and they’ve spurred me on. I hope they don’t stop until I do.

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Silent Voices – Found poetry of lost women

I’m delighted to have had three poems accepted for publication as part of the Silent Voices – Found poetry of lost women project. The first poem is here, the second is here and the third is here.

The project aims to give a voice to the ordinary women of history who, for so long, have been assumed, as if by default, to have nothing interesting to say. It does so by using their own documents, whether that be public records or private writings, such as letters and diaries, and using them to make poetry. It’s a wonderful idea and the more you look at these apparently unassuming primary sources, the more apparent it is that some of the best poetry hides in the everyday and the ordinary.

The woman behind my poems is my great grandmother, Dorothy. Separated from her husband for almost four years when he was sent to fight in the Mesopotamian campaign in WWI, the pair of them wrote hundreds of letters to each other. Most of his survive; very much fewer of hers do, perhaps because of the difficulty he faced in keeping and transporting large volumes of papers.

Dorothy died relatively young, when still in her fifties, and in notes written by her son, David, the Sonny of the poems, was described as a mild-mannered woman who had a great deal to put up with.

I first “met” Dorothy through the prism of her brother-in-law, William Faulkner Taylor (see here, here, here and here). She corresponded with him for more than a year until he was killed at Passchendaele and, judging by his letters to her (to my knowledge, none of hers to him survive), was variously helpful (she had his watch fixed for him and sent him tobacco and cakes), supportive (obvious by the way he thanks her for her advice and counsel) and, purely platonically, indulgent of his need to use her as proxy girlfriend when he despaired of ever finding a real one (“Say, I hope you’re right and there is someone waiting for me and that she’s just like you.”) Nowhere, though, had I seen her voice tell her own story until I chanced on these letters.

Dorothy: it’s over to you.