Throughout 2018, we’ll be celebrating The Art of Change by inviting 12 of our Young Poets to write and perform a poem that speaks to our changing world.
This month, Laurie Ogden shares her poem, ‘Hunger Strike’, inspired by the treatment of women detained at Yarl’s Wood.
After Terrance Hayes’ Nuclear1
‘I know in my heart that none of us are truly free until we are all free.’
Opelo Kgari, detainee at Yarl’s Wood.
1918. A captive woman refuses to shrink
under a prison guard’s glare, rejects food, shrieks
that her body is restrung
as political daily but her voice is rejected. He tugs
at the corners of her clamp-mouth. Repeat. Reset.
Two hundred forcefuls. There’s
no need to detail how he did it, too much hurt
inflicted on women is repeated. Women of grit.
Women on strike.
Painting parliament in purple, white and green.
Prisoners who would not taste anything but Rights.
2018. A captive woman refuses to shrink
under a prison guard’s glare. The guns
pointed at temples are paper thin
with Home Office stamps. Human Rights are rugs
to be yanked from underfoot. Reset.
Repeat. An indeterminate sentence sinks
each day into dread. Night
-mares are airplane shadows. Twitter sneers,
I just don’t really see the point in their strike.
With spit the taste of shut
doors, Not when I’m eating my full plate of Rights.
1 The ‘gramof&s’ form devised by Terrance Hayes consists of 11 lines. The final word of each line is an anagram (of four letters or longer) of the title.
What inspired your poem this month?
I was thinking about women because it’s International Women’s Day this month (and I am one) and it’s 100 years since (some) women got the vote. This led me to think about the suffragette movement and in considering that I found the parallels with present day too pertinent to ignore. The treatment of women detained at Yarl’s Wood and the dialogue surrounding that, in particular the dismissive attitude towards their hunger strike, was something I felt compelled to write about.
Natasha Walter, the director of Women for Refugee Women, said: ‘Our research has shown that the Home Office is breaking its own rules. Most women put in detention after seeking asylum are survivors of gender-based violence, and Home Office rules say that such women should not be detained.’
Change starts with people using their voice – we then have to follow it through with action
Who do you think writes well on the topic of change?
This is a really difficult question because I think so many poets at least touch on this in their work – it’s kind of impossible not too. Poetry and poetry facilitation can be used to directly enact change; Anita Barton-Williams with ‘Heaux Noire’, a platform for black & brown women, Joelle Taylor with ‘Songs My Enemy Taught Me’ and her work with survivors, Rachel Long’s ‘Octavia’, a collective for womxn of colour and Travis Alabanza who creates essential and beautiful work as one of the most prominent queer artistic voices in the UK right now.
How has poetry changed your life?
A number of years ago, I was in a room of writers and we were told to put your hand up if you didn’t feel you had a voice. Out of the group, two women and myself put up our hands. Those artists are two of the most important people in the UK poetry scene right now. Their work is beautiful, powerful and vital.
Before finding poetry, the closest I ever felt to being able to communicate how I felt about myself and the world around me was through dance. When I found poetry, I felt for the first time like I had found a home in my own voice.
Why do you think poetry is a good way to talk about change?
Poetry is a way to be heard, to communicate and debate. Change starts with people using their voice – we then have to follow it through with action.
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Part of The Art of Change, our 2018 annual theme which explores how the arts respond to, reflect and potentially effect change in the social and political landscape.