Cycling Suffragettes!

Bikergirls

Victorian Biker Girls (Sophie Bryant not shown)

In the long and arduous fight for womens rights the simple act of owning a bicycle was considred radical in Victorian times.  One of the first women in the United Kingdom to own a bicycle was the Dublin born Sophie Bryant.  Born Sophie Willock, a native of Sandymount, February 15th 1850.

At the age of 19, living in London, she married Dr William Hicks Bryant, a man 10 years her senior, who died within a year of the marriage.  Thus liberated as a respectable widow with the ability to make her own decisions she went completely off the rails.  Stark staring feminist mad.

Apart from buying a bicycle she also became a teacher. When the University of London opened its doors to women she became one of the first women to be awarded a first class degree.  As a mathematician she earned her doctorate of science and became only the third woman to be elected to the London Mathematical Society.

When Trinity College Dublin opened its doors to women they marked the occasion by awarding Bryant the first honorary degree given to a woman.

She wanted votes for women, but said that first women should be educated.  She devoted much of her life to that cause and the institutions founded and managed by her made an enormous contribution to that end.

She died doing what she loved, in Chamonix in the French Alps, climbing mountains at the age of 72.

Zermatt To The Matterhorn; by Thomas Hardy

Thirty-two years since, up against the sun,
seven shapes, thin atomies to lower sight,
labouringly leapt and gained thy gabled height,
and four lives paid for what the seven had won.

They were the first by whom the deed was done,
and when I look at thee, my mind takes flight
to that day’s tragic feat of manly might,
as though, till then, of history thou hadst none.

Yet ages ere men topped thee, late and soon
thou watch’dst each night the planets lift and lower;
thou gleam’dst to Joshua’s pausing sun and moon,
and brav’dst the tokening sky when Caesar’s power
approached its bloody end: yea, saw’st that Noon
when darkness filled the earth till the ninth hour.

Happy Birthday Doris Lessing

Taq-e Gara

And now at Kermanshah the gate
Dark empty and the withered grass
And through the twilight now the late
Few travelers in the westward pass
                       from “You, Andrew Marvell”  by Archibald Macleish
Kermanshah, known as the “Gate to Asia” lies in the Zagros mountains of Iran.  It is the largest Kurdish city in Iran.  It was here, on Oct 22nd 1919 that Doris Lessing was born.
In 1925 her family moved to Southern Rhodesia and it was in Africa that the Nobel Literature Laureate found her unique voice. An Africa that exists no more, where Robert Mugabe renamed the country Zimbabwe and chaotically dismantled the productive economy.
Twice married and twice divorced she left Africa in 1949 leaving her children behind because “There is nothing more boring for an intelligent woman than to spend endless amounts of time with small children. I felt I wasn’t the best person to bring them up. I would have ended up an alcoholic or a frustrated intellectual like my mother”.
Banned from returning to Rhodesia (or South Africa) for her views on apartheid, she was also closely monitored by the British Secret Service for her support of Communism.  A supporter of Communism who was not afraid to denounce Soviet aggression .  She was vocal in criticism of the Hungarian and Afghan invasions.  Also a lifelong anti-nuclear campaigner and vocal feminist.
My favourite thing about Lessing is that she evolved into a writer of Science Fiction.  She moulded her Science Fiction from Sufi Philosophy, a throwback perhaps to the place of her birth, and the sinful Sufi poets of Persia.
Lessing stoutly defended speculative fiction against literary snobs.  You can do that when you have won every literary prize worth having!

Oh Cherry trees you are too white for my heart; by Doris Lessing

Oh Cherry trees you are too white for my heart,
And all the ground is whitened with your dying,
And all your boughs go dipping towards the river,
And every drop is falling from my heart.’

Now if there is justice in the angel with the bright eyes
He will say ‘Stop!’ and hand me a bough of cherry.
The bearded angel, four-square and straight like a goat
Lifts a ruminant head and slowly chews at the snow.

Goat, must you stand here?
Must you stand here still?
Is it that you will always stand here,
Proof against faith, proof against innocence?

Happy Birthday Louisa Lawson

water-circles-1

Bord this day in 1848 to a very poor family Louisa Lawson left school at 13.  Married at 18 to a Norwegian sailor who left her on her own as he went gold prospecting she had five children, one who died as a baby.  She gained financial independence by buying and managing boarding houses in Sydney.  She used the money from the boarding houses to buy shares in the nationalist newspaper “The Republican”.  She became a writer, editor, poet, suffragette, Australian republican and feminist.

She edited and published “The Dawn” a feminist journal published monthly for 17 years, the first Australian publication produced solely by women.

She had a difficult relationship with her eldest son Henry, who went on to become a writer, editor and poet in his own right.  Many consider him to be the greatest Australian poet.  His early work was heavily influenced by his mother, and she helped his career by employing him as an editor, and by publishing his work and using her press to print his first book.

Reverie; by Louisa Lawson

I am sitting by the river,
and I wile an hour away,
watching circles start and widen
in their momentary play.

Here a stronger whelms a weaker
as its ring expanding flies,
there one rises to the surface,
as another fades and dies.

And I solemn grow with thinking,
for just now it would me seem,
that each life is like a circle –
on time’s deep, impellant stream.

Do we not upon its bosom
linger for a little day,
making faint and fleeting impress,
then forever fade away.

while the strong unresting river
toward Eternity doth glide,
all regardless of the circles
that have pulsed upon its tide.

 

Lawson

Sapphic Symbology

Katherine_Harris_Bradley_&_Edith_Emma_Cooper_(2)

Michael Field

I started off this morning searching for the poet who celebrates a birthday today.  Allen Ginsberg was my pick last year, but I noticed that he shares his birthday with the now discredited Marion Zimmer Bradley.  Bradley was accused by her children of enabling child abuse by her husband Walter H. Breen.

Marion Zimmer Bradley did have a reputation as a womens’ rights campaigner and her one poetic work is “Maenads”.  So I followed the thread of the wild virgin followers of Dionysus as symbols of feminism or lesbianism.  Clad in fox fur, leaping through the mountains, intoxicated by wine, by life, by divine ecstasy, worthy symbols of feminine power absent the domination of men.

Ursula Le Guin also wrote a poem about Maenads and you will find it in a posting for her birthday on this blog.

Suffragettes were described in popular press as “Mad Maenads”.  The suffragette movement was very instrumental in the alignment of feminism with vegetarianism and indeed it was the suffragettes who identified the hunger strike as a key weapon against the forces of societal oppression.  The lesson was not lost on the Fenian movement and Sinn Féin adopted it in the struggle for Irish Independence.  Gandhi also borrowed the weapon for his armory of non-violent protest.

But I was more interested in following the thread that leads to Michael Field.  An unlikely lesbian you might think of a male author.  Not so.  Micheal Field is in fact the pen name of the scandalous incestuous lesbian couple:   Katherine Harris Bradley and her niece Edith Emma Cooper.  In the poem below the prevalence of fox fur is no accident.

To my knowledge Marion Zimmer Bradley has no relation with Katherine Harris Bradley.

Second Thoughts ; by Michael Field

I thought of leaving her for a day
in town, it was such an iron winter
at Durdans, the garden frosty clay,
the woods as dry as any splinter,
the sky congested. I would break
from the deep, lethargic, country air
to the shining lamps, to the clash of the play,
and to-morrow, wake
beside her, a thousand things to say.
I planned-Oh more-I had almost started;
I lifted her face in my hands to kiss,
a face in a border of fox’s fur,
for the bitter black wind had stricken her,
and she wore it – her soft hair straying out
where it buttoned against the gray, leather snout:
In an instant we should have parted;
but at sight of the delicate world within
that fox-fur collar, from brow to chin,
at sight of those wonderful eyes from the mine,
coal pupils, an iris of glittering spa,
And the wild, ironic, defiant shine
as of a creature behind a bar
one has captured, and, when three lives are past,
may hope to reach the heart of at last
all that, and the love at her lips, combined
to show me what folly it were to miss
a face with such thousand things to say,
and beside these, such thousand more to spare,
for the shining lamps, for the clash of the play-
oh madness; not for a single day
could I leave her! I stayed behind.

Happy Birthday Maya Angelou

Maya-Angelou

She is a phenomenal woman, a caged bird and we know that still she rises.  Maya Angelou occupies three of the “Top 10” most popular poem slots on Poemhunter.Com.  She is the most recently living author in the top 10, having passed away in 2014.

Today she is 90.  I wish I was at her birthday party.  From the poem below I just know I would eat well, she even included some Irish stew.  Happy Birthday Maya, wherever you are.

I am adding a late edit to this post.  It has emerged that the shooter in the YouTube offices in California yesterday was Nasim Aghdam.  She injured three people with a handgun and then took her own life.  She was a 39 year old Vegan-themed content creator.  That fact just seems to fit in here somehow, the words “anxious zeal” might be used to describe her actions.

The Health-Food Diner ; by Maya Angelou

No sprouted wheat and soya shoots
and brussels in a cake,
carrot straw and spinach raw,
(today, I need a steak).

Not thick brown rice and rice pilaw
or mushrooms creamed on toast,
turnips mashed and parsnips hashed,
(I’m dreaming of a roast).

Health-food folks around the world
are thinned by anxious zeal,
they look for help in seafood kelp
(I count on breaded veal).

No smoking signs, raw mustard greens,
zucchini by the ton,
uncooked kale and bodies frail
are sure to make me run

to

loins of pork and chicken thighs
and standing rib, so prime,
pork chops brown and fresh ground round
(I crave them all the time).

Irish stews and boiled corned beef
and hot dogs by the scores,
or any place that saves a space
for smoking carnivores.

Happy Birthday Marge Piercy

Marge-Piercy-photo-with-cat1

Poet, Feminist, Novelist, Sci-fi writer, Piercy is quite the woman of parts.  To boot she shares her birth date with some pretty heavy hitters, including J.S. Bach, Andrew Marvell, Joseph Haydn, Edward Fitzgerald (translator of Omar Khayyam), Octavio Paz and Canadian Hockey legend, “Mr Hockey” Gordie Howe.

I choose Marge Piercy because more than ever this is a time for feminist voices.  In Belfast last week “Not Guilty” verdicts were given to four Ulster rugby players on rape and sexual assault charges.  On Twitter a full scale war is in progress between #IBelieveHer and #IBelieveThem.

There is a danger that the war of words will distract from the most important issue.  There is a groundswell of public appetite for reform of the legal procedures in rape trials.  This opportunity needs to be grasped now.  It does not matter who was “right” or “wrong” because past has passed.  It is time to own the future.  Campaign for reform.  Use the energy to deliver a better tomorrow.

What Are Big Girls Made Of? ; by Marge Piercy

The construction of a woman:
a woman is not made of flesh
of bone and sinew
belly and breasts, elbows and liver and toe.
She is manufactured like a sports sedan.
She is retooled, refitted and redesigned
every decade.
Cecile had been seduction itself in college.
She wriggled through bars like a satin eel,
her hips and ass promising, her mouth pursed
in the dark red lipstick of desire.

She visited in ’68 still wearing skirts
tight to the knees, dark red lipstick,
while I danced through Manhattan in mini skirt,
lipstick pale as apricot milk,
hair loose as a horse’s mane. Oh dear,
I thought in my superiority of the moment,
whatever has happened to poor Cecile?
She was out of fashion, out of the game,
disqualified, disdained, dis-
membered from the club of desire.

Look at pictures in French fashion
magazines of the 18th century:
century of the ultimate lady
fantasy wrought of silk and corseting.
Paniers bring her hips out three feet
each way, while the waist is pinched
and the belly flattened under wood.
The breasts are stuffed up and out
offered like apples in a bowl.
The tiny foot is encased in a slipper
never meant for walking.
On top is a grandiose headache:
hair like a museum piece, daily
ornamented with ribbons, vases,
grottoes, mountains, frigates in full
sail, balloons, baboons, the fancy
of a hairdresser turned loose.
The hats were rococo wedding cakes
that would dim the Las Vegas strip.
Here is a woman forced into shape
rigid exoskeleton torturing flesh:
a woman made of pain.

How superior we are now: see the modern woman
thin as a blade of scissors.
She runs on a treadmill every morning,
fits herself into machines of weights
and pulleys to heave and grunt,
an image in her mind she can never
approximate, a body of rosy
glass that never wrinkles,
never grows, never fades. She
sits at the table closing her eyes to food
hungry, always hungry:
a woman made of pain.

A cat or dog approaches another,
they sniff noses. They sniff asses.
They bristle or lick. They fall
in love as often as we do,
as passionately. But they fall
in love or lust with furry flesh,
not hoop skirts or push up bras
rib removal or liposuction.
It is not for male or female dogs
that poodles are clipped
to topiary hedges.

If only we could like each other raw.
If only we could love ourselves
like healthy babies burbling in our arms.
If only we were not programmed and reprogrammed
to need what is sold us.
Why should we want to live inside ads?
Why should we want to scourge our softness
to straight lines like a Mondrian painting?
Why should we punish each other with scorn
as if to have a large ass
were worse than being greedy or mean?

When will women not be compelled
to view their bodies as science projects,
gardens to be weeded,
dogs to be trained?
When will a woman cease
to be made of pain?