Spoken Word Column: International Women’s Day 2020

As I’m sure you know, today is International Women’s Day. So, I’d like to dedicate this month’s column to ten of my favourite female poets. It was extremely difficult to narrow it down to ten, and as soon as I click ‘Send’ I’ll no doubt think of a load more poets that could’ve made my list. Just to be clear, this is in no way intended to be a definitive “best of” and is in no specific order. It’s just a selection of ten female voices that I love right now and want to shout about. I’ve deliberately focused on the UK scene because that’s where my passion lies, but no doubt there are female poets owning stages all over the globe.

The main thing that I love about poetry and spoken word is that it gives a platform to voices that might otherwise be ignored by the mainstream or the ‘establishment’. The spoken word poetry scene specifically is placing the power in the hands of the poets themselves as opposed to any ‘gatekeepers’, and as a result, we’re hearing from a much more diverse range of poets.

In 2020, now more than ever, we need to hear from female voices and from people of colour. The world needs to hear more stories, experiences, perspectives and rants from both of these sections of society. And I firmly believe that in order for that to happen, spoken word poetry should be the starting point. And probably the ending point as well.

1. Salena Godden        ‘That’s All We Had, Dad’

I’ll never forget the day when we shot this video. It was October 2016, cold and windy on the Hastings coast, but with the perfect lighting for a couple of poem-films. With all shoots like this, the poem or the song will be read or played hundreds of times before you wrap. But every time Salena read this poem, we felt our chests tightening in its grip. One of the greatest poets of our times.

2. Toria Garbutt           ‘Nowt Matters Now’

Again, this video was shot in the poet’s hometown – in this case Knottingley in West Yorkshire. We recorded a handful of poems in the same afternoon and at the time this one was almost brand-new, but it instantly stood out for me as the poem that catapulted Toria onto a new level. Even now when I see her perform it live, it hits me. A real landmark moment in Toria’s trajectory. Equally beautiful and brutal.

3. Zena Edwards           ‘Healing Pool’

I can’t find any videos on YouTube that truly do Zena justice. I’ve been lucky enough to see her perform around half-a-dozen times and of everybody that I’ve ever seen, Zena is the poet whose performances transcend poetry to the biggest extent. It’s not just poetry and it’s not just music and it’s not just poetry with a bit of music – it’s like an out-of-body experience. I know that sounds naff but she’s utterly incredible.

4. Louise Fazackerley        ‘Weather Report’

Louise has loads of great videos, but I had to share this track. It’s from her ‘Love Is A Battlefield’ EP, which was a New Voices commission from BBC Radio 3’s The Verb. This track was one of the first things that I heard when Nymphs & Thugs was in its infancy and it’ll always be one of my favourite things that the label’s released. Her voice holds you mid-air when you listen to it.

5. Nafeesa Hamid            ‘B8 Branded’

This is one of my favourite contemporary poems that I’ve heard in a very long time. I first saw Nafeesa perform it at a LIVEwire event in Leeds back in October and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since. Her debut collection ‘Besharam’ was published by Verve Poetry Press in 2018, and when I read it, I immediately bought a few other copies to send out to people – it’s one of those books.

6. Maria Ferguson        ‘Where Everybody Knew the Krays’

Maria’s debut poetry collection ‘Alright, Girl?’ was published by Burning Eye Books on Monday, and this is the opening poem in the book. I’ve seen it performed in a wide range of venues and social settings both inside and outside of the capital, and it always down an absolute storm. Maria’s is one of the most vital and unique voices in the UK right now and I can’t wait to see what she does next.

7. Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan    ‘British-born’

I mentioned Suyaiymah’s work in my political poetry column back in November, but it’d be criminal not to mention her in this one as well. The way that Suhaiymah distils a lot of the institutional Islamophobia that exists in the UK (and abroad) is extremely powerful, and her work across a range of platforms and mediums is tackling the issue better than anyone else I’ve seen. This is Suhaiymah at her best: unapologetic and razor-sharp.

8. Reece Lyons          ‘ I Am a Woman and I Have a Penis’

For me, one of poetry’s key roles is allowing you to spend a few minutes in somebody else’s shoes. It’s a visceral and intense opportunity to gain more empathy and understanding. As a cis male, I’ll never truly understand what life is like for trans women, but I found this poem strikingly powerful and a great example of how poetry can help us on our journey to deeper understanding of other people’s issues and perspectives.

9. Sabrina Mahfouz        ‘London’s Wardrobe’

This poem was the first time that I ever came across Sabrina’s work and I was instantly hooked. Whether she’s writing about London’s multicultural fashion influence, the stories of sex workers or animals and nature, she always blows me away with her words. Her ‘How You Might Know Me’ collection was published by Out-Spoken Press back in 2016 and I vividly remember reading it twice through cover-to-cover the first time I sat down with it.

10. Joelle Taylor            ‘Everything You Have Ever Lost’

Last but most certainly not least. This is one of my favourite poems and always will be. Joelle is a true icon of the UK spoken word scene and has recently been touring Australia and South East Asia with her work. Joelle has always devoted her time to helping others find their voice and still does; she’s currently guest editor at Out-Spoken Press, where you can find her stunning collection ‘Songs My Enemy Taught Me’.

Filed under: Written & Spoken Word