URANIA: feminist opposition to the powers of ‘Evil’

In my previous blog, I outlined the aims and structure of Urania. In this second one, I think it is essential to identify and then discuss the contents I found most compelling. As I have already written, I am a huge fan of the Twenties and Thirties (ok, I also love the Tens!) and reading Urania shook and excited me! I was not surprised by articles about universal love, it is a leitmotiv of some literature of that time,1 but I found the cleverness and boldness of several thoughts expressed here, absolutely gripping; words that were clearly intended to foster not only love but also peace, equality and refusal of fascisms in order to override gender and social discriminations.

alla nazimova and lady gaga

Lady Gaga and Alla Nazimova

Then, I reflected that the women’s struggle to be visible and establish a fair world is not a modern claim or drift, in the same way that white wigs and campy dresses are not a Lady Gaga invention! But an Alla Nazimova and Natasha Rambova idea at the very least!2. So, this consideration leads me to recognise how many facts and concepts in history as in herstory are tightly linked decade after decade though we often forget this strong bond. An example? Long before Urania, as far back 17th century, Madame de Rambouillet established a feminist salon in France (Did you know about that?).

Nowadays, the disclosure of a powerful thought or action that happened in the past becomes straight away modern and avant-garde! But why? I assume we have to blame the compulsory patriarchal and capitalistic education we are all forced to have in school. You know, women mostly portrayed as submissive wives or mothers, communism depicted as Absolute Evil or utopian. So, as inhabitants of this hectic modern world, we often associate present with progress and we make a mistake.

Coming back to Urania, I found some beliefs uttered in One-Hundred and One (Sep-Dec 1933) and Peace and Feminism (Jan-Apr 1935) politically committed and impressive. The two articles mentioned above, clearly expressed the ethical and political vision of the journal whose concerns, linked with an opposition to fascism and patriarchy, are unsettlingly current (Do the names Putin, Kim Jong-un and Trump, among others, ring a bell?). The first piece is written by Irene Clyde, the second by the Swedish-British feminist Lizzy Lind af Hageby (she was also an animal rights advocate and a vegetarian, quite radical eh?)

Let’s dive into the first piece! One-Hundred and One is not just a celebration of One-Hundred and One editions of Urania but also a reflection and analysis of the journey of the magazine. Clyde points out the dramatic drift of 1933 society towards individualism and anti-feminism declaring that some readers, contaminated by new fascist ideas, have asked the editors ‘to discontinue sending them the paper’ (1933, p.1). Alas, the women’s fear of being called feminist has ancient roots. It is no coincidence in fact that Clyde remarks in the same article that ‘the Feminist Movement is far less triumphant now than it seemed to be eighteen years ago’ (p. 1); totalitarianism and anti-feminism are sadly two sides of the same coin! The solution to this ‘Dark Age’? Focus ourselves in conscious union through Beauty and Love! (Do you remember Hillary’s campaign slogan ‘Stronger together’?).

urania, clinton
Clyde, I. (1933) Urania. One-Hundred and One.

Reading Peace and Feminism inflamed me so much; the political burden of Lizzy’s words is so massive and powerful that it almost moved me to tears (poignant and empowering tears). Why? She recognises that scientific discoveries were put at the service of war; that war portrays women as hopeless and it ‘has always been antagonistic to mental development in women’ (1935, p. 5). But that is not all. Lizzy pushes women to realise their power, understanding the male oppression mobilised against them and refusing war because ‘acquiescence is murder and spiritual wickedness’ (p. 5).

lind af hageby, urania

How much do we have to learn even today, from proto-feminists and feminists of the first decades of Twentieth century in order to smash patriarchy and injustice?

Still inspired by the bond between feminism and pacifism? At the Glasgow Women’s Library, you can find ‘Sylvia Pankhurst: the life and loves of a romantic rebel’. I challenge you not to fall in love with Emmeline’s nonconformist daughter!

1) Natalie Clifford Barney (1920) Pensées d’une Amazone. Paris: Paul Frères Éditeurs.
2) Gavin Lambert (1997) Nazimova: A Biography. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

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25 Years of Stars

title again

Blue Spine by Shauna McMullan Credit: GWL

I’m Emily, tour guide volunteer and interim Lifelong Learning Admin Assistant at Glasgow Women’s Library. I first heard about GWL during my Environmental Art studies at Glasgow School of Art when my tutor Shauna McMullan gave a talk on a wonderful project she was working on called the Blue Spine collection, a single, long line of blue-spined books, collected and borrowed from women all around Scotland. Intrigued and inspired, I shyly made my first visit to the Mitchell Library (then the home of GWL), where I was welcomed like a long lost friend, offered multiple cups of tea, and generally (wonderfully) overwhelmed by a feeling of acceptance and warmth.

It wasn’t until 2014 that I began to volunteer at GWL as a tour guide on the Women’s Heritage Walks, eager to learn more about women’s history in Glasgow and to become more confident speaking in public. Walking around the city, talking about amazing women like Betty Brown, the bullet Catherine Carswell received in the post, and the Suffrage Oak, the groups responded with their own memories: rumours, smells, and stories that we excitedly note down to be added to the script for the next group on the walk. Each walk is shaped and coloured by those who come along and made richer for it.

When I was thinking of an object to choose for this 25 years blog, another piece by Shauna McMullan immediately came to mind. For the 21 Revolutions exhibition, Shauna McMullan combed GWL’s lending library collecting the marginalia and asterisks from hundreds of the donated volumes. The resulting print is titled 165 Stars, Found in GWL Lending Library. I have always loved puzzling over asterisks and underlinings in books I’m reading, feeling a connection to the previous reader and wondering why she highlighted this word or this particular sentence. Inevitably, I pause longer at these sections, reading and rereading the marked pages. I’m sure some of them mark moments of inspiration and of learning, others may mark surprise or debate.

Shauna McMullan, 165 Stars, Found in GWL Lending Library, 2012

Shauna McMullan, 165 Stars, Found in GWL Lending Library, 2012 

165 Stars makes me think of all the many ways GWL has marked me. In my first week working as Lifelong Learning Admin Assistant (maternity cover) I found myself rowing with the GWL team down the Clyde on a Saturday morning to enthusiastic encouragement. No, I had never rowed before. This has set the tone for my time as admin assistant: there’s a new, exciting and surprising challenge all the time! Every day at the library has that fizz about it that you feel when you read something in a book that you want to underline or star for the next person; keen to share the learning and enthusiasm for what you’re discovering.

GWL is full of stars: some are scribbled in books, others are working behind front of house, or cataloguing knitting patterns or feminist magazines in the archive, or feeding back on events so that we can grow and improve, and spreading the word about everything we have to share. I’m not even going to apologise for the cliché because being part of GWL absolutely feels like being part of a beautiful big shining constellation, which shines brighter for all the wonderful volunteers, borrowers, friends, eventgoers and visitors who each mark the library in their own unique way.

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LGBTQ Collections Online Resource Launch!

We’re excited to launch a brand new online resource to augment our Lesbian Archive and LGBTQ Archive and Museum collections at GWL!

Sorting some of the LAIC Journal collection

Sorting some of the LAIC Journal collection

Since April 2016, GWL has been working with a team of volunteers to list and research parts of our LGBTQ collections. As a result of this work we have produced a workshop toolkit, designed by artist Hannah Moitt, as well as this brand new online resource which gives and insight into some of the materials we have been unearthing and researching over the last year or so.

The project began in April 2016 when we started recruiting for volunteers with an interest in LGBTQ histories and archiving. Over the last year we have worked with 15 volunteers, many of whom have contributed to this resource by offering their insights and responses to the collections. As well as this, they’ve box listed and rehoused a good chunk of the material we have in these collections. You’ll find their essays and artworks in the online resource alongside objects and materials from the archive.

Queers Against The Bathroom Bill T-shirt, Bel Pye, 2017

Queers Against The Bathroom Bill T-shirt, Bel Pye, 2017

This is by no means an extensive examination of the collection – it’s vast! But we hope it offers some interesting insights into the material we house here at GWL. There is still a lot of listing, rehousing and researching to do, and we hope that the work we’ve been able to kick start with this project will continue. If you’d like to get involved please don’t hesitate to contact the library!

Finally, we’d like to thank our funders Museum Galleries Scotland and Awards for All for supporting this project, and allowing us to begin to explore these very important collections.

You can find the resource through our website by following links through ‘Explore Our Collections’ or by clicking the link here

Museums Galleries Scotland funded logoAwards For All logo

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Celebrate Glasgow’s Alternative Spirit This Weekend At GWL

All those tuned in to Lauren Laverne’s show on BBC Radio 6 Music a few weeks ago will have heard the familiar tones of our excellent Makar and friend of GWL,  Jackie Kay, revealing the location of this year’s 6 Music Festival:

“Glasgow – gallus, glitzy, fu o’ grace. This city’s

Heartbeat’s your own. Art in its DNA. No self-pity.”

Gaun yersel’! The festival, now in its 4th year, will be making use of some of the city’s most vibrant sectors to showcase bands, artists, poets and comedians to loyal pilgrims from far and wide. If you missed out on tickets, never fear! Here at Glasgow Women’s Library we thought we’d give you a taste of some of the banging female performers and complement them with some of our own offerings to celebrate what will surely be an amazing weekend in a very special city.

Girl Ray

Bringing some summery indie pop to the Barras is North London lady trio, Girl Ray. Their recent release ‘Stupid Things’ is despondent and self deprecating in a fuzzy, catchy kind of way, and it’ll be great to see which hits they bring to showcase alongside Cate Le Bon, Dutch Uncles and Duds on the Friday night slot at St. Luke’s.

If you feel like exploring Merchant City from a different perspective, why not wander round our Women’s Heritage Walk? It incorporates GWL’s former premises as well as Strickland Press, a publisher set up by two swashbuckling anarchists. Pop into the library to pick up a leaflet or download one here.

Victoria McNulty & Cat Hepburn

Spoken word poet and performance artist Victoria McNulty will be sure to deliver some thought-provoking lines in her Sunday daytime slot at Tramway. Her brilliant poem ‘Coffins from Derry’ is a hard hitting message of solidarity to refugees and well worth a listen. She’ll be appearing alongside Cat Hepburn, who’s ‘Love Letter to Glasgow’ is sure to give you a hit of nostalgia and pride for the good city.

We at the library love to showcase poetry both written and spoken. If you’re out and about on Saturday 25th March, do come along to the launch of ‘House of Three’, a new poetry press featuring established and emerging voices from the world of women poets. It’s a free event with plenty of readings and, as ever, probably lots of tea. 

Sacred Paws

St. Luke’s on Saturday night will play host to those coolest of cats, Glasgow/London duo Sacred Paws. The novel layered vocals and punchy riffs of their most recent album, ‘Strike A Match’ are proper great, if you don’t catch them this weekend, keep an eye out for upcoming Glasgow gigs. 

If you want to witness some more creative efforts of the talented women of Scotland, come down to the library to see the current touring exhibition ‘When the Light Shifts’.  

Julia Jacklin

Whoever masterminded the formidable touring partnership of Whitney and Julia Jacklin, I applaud them. Laced with bittersweet, youthful romance and the highs and tragedies of growing older, Jacklin’s lyrics glide between themes of familial femininity and post-adolescent womanhood. Ranging from the dreamy clean guitars and introspection of ‘LA Dream’ and the boisterous pop of ‘Coming of Age’, her first album is an excellent one. She’ll be playing the O2 on Sunday night.

Keen for some Sunday tunes and food for thought but just can’t shake a leg? Let yourself be roused from slumber by the sizzling aroma of GWL’s Sunday Brunch takeover on Subcity Radio on 26th March.

As ever, we love to see new faces at the library, so if you’re only in town for the weekend, be sure to come and say hello at 23 Landressy Street, Bridgeton. Have a great festival all!

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Urania: How to be a bad XXs feminist and a queer angel in the 20s

Hello! My name is Giorgia, I am Italian and I am a Gender Studies MA student at Stirling University. I find the existence of a Women’s Library in Glasgow full of wonderful books and magazines both inspirational and enchanting, and I definitely did not want to miss out on the possibility of exploring this matriarchal and feminist shelter as part of a research placement for my degree programme!

The huge Lesbian Archive at the Glasgow Women’s Library allowed me to focus my research on two specific historical periods I have always been interested in: the 20s/30s and the pre-Stonewall era (How can one forget the image of a rebellious Sylvia Rivera pitched against homophobic cops in the  New York of 1969!). My research placement in the library gave me the opportunity to read and work on two powerful and fascinating magazines printed in London during this time frame: Urania and Arena Three.

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In this first blog I will direct my attention to the earliest of the two magazines, its editorial structure and aims. So, let’s talk about Urania!

Urania was a feminist and ante litteram (pre/proto) queer magazine that came out three times per year from 1916 to 1940 with a double issue. It is important to keep in mind that Urania was not a publication intended for a large readership, but a highbrow collection of worldwide articles about women and gender to be shared within a small circle of female and feminist eggheads. The printing of this Journal remained private for twenty-four years and as Irene Clyde, alias Thomas Baty, points out in the Distributor’s note at the end of every edition: ‘Urania is not published, nor offered to the public, but [..] can be had by friends’.

The magazine is presented as a bricolage of reprinted articles from other newspapers and periodicals from all over the world (especially Japan), pieces of biographies, autobiographies and poems. In addition to this, it is possible to find now and then in the publication, memorials or political commentaries written by Clyde. A revolutionary new feminist belief promoting peace, equality and the elimination of gender distinctions underlies the magazine (quite radical eh?). It is in many ways similar to another wonderful feminist magazine published in London for a couple of years a little earlier in the century: The Freewoman (1911-1912). Both publications distance themselves from a feminism that focuses only on voting and in support of war (Do you remember Emmeline Pankhurst and the ‘White Feather’ feminists?), rather they advocate for a society of equals, ‘of masters, among masters’ (1911, p. 2).

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But coming back to Urania and its structure, there are two things that mostly caught my eye. One it is the consistency in the number of pages of every issue which averages at 12 and shows the texture of the project; the other is the repetition of the same Eva Gore-Booth quote on the cover of the magazine. Eva Gore-Booth, mind and source of inspiration of Urania, along with her long-term partner and friend Esther Roper, was a feminist and poetess strictly tied to spirituality and ancient Christianity. Gore-Booth’ s bond with feminism and a religion without dogmas is pretty evident in her words and can be deduced from the quoted poem on the cover; words considered a mantra to follow by Urania’s editors.

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A curiosity? The quote remains the same from 1926 to 1928 but changes between 1929 and 1930 to a piece from an 1844 Carlyle-Sterling letter. Furthermore, the quote comes back unchanged on the cover of 1933 to turn again from 1934 to September/December 1935 into another piece of the same poem by Gore-Booth and eventually reappears alike in January/April 1935 until 1938.

alt text missing (Urania)

I assume that the editors of Urania, decided to change the quote in 1929 to underscore their ethical and political aim: the creation of a society based on love and solidarity; a belief that needed to be stronger under economic depression and new dictatorships.

In the following blog, I will take into account the specific contents of Urania where a powerful, pacifist and feminist thought arises. In these articles it is pointed out how much Fascism and violence divide humanity and harm feminism (sounds sadly current eh?).

Further readings:

Oram, A. (2001) Feminism, Androgyny and Love between Women in Urania, 1916-1940 in Media History, vol. 7 no. 1, Northampton: University College Northampton.

O’Connor, S. and Shepard, C. (2008) Women, Social Change in Twentieth Century Ireland: Dissenting Voices? Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Inspired by the bond between feminism and pacifism at the beginning of the Twentieth century? Why not reading ‘Pensées d’une Amazone’ by the poetess Natalie Clifford Barney?

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Open the Door by Paying it Forward

Open the Door wide imageThis week we’re thrilled to launch our brand new literary festival, Open the Door. Featuring writers such as Val McDermid, Maggie O’Farrell, Kirsty Logan, Leila Aboulela, and Lesley McDowell, the afternoon and evening events take place in a unique and accessible setting that reimagines the more formal audience and speaker setting of traditional literary festivals. Featuring a literary afternoon tea, a networking event and an unmissable evening Herland, this day long festival is set to be a milestone gathering of women writers and readers.

We are always striving to be as open, inclusive and accessible as possible with the majority of our events costing as little as £2 with free subsidised places for those who cannot afford to pay. Unusually, for Open the Door, we are not able to offer our regular subsidised ticket option due to the costs of the festival itself. We still want to ensure that as many women as possible can benefit from this unique literary event and so we are introducing our Pay it Forward scheme.

The idea behind the scheme is simple: if you donate to the Pay it Forward fund, you’ll be supporting those who currently can’t afford the ticket price. The fund will enable us to offer free tickets to community members and groups who would not otherwise be able to attend, and also help us support writers involved in Open the Door.

By contributing to our Pay it Forward fund, you’ll be reaching a hand down to help others up, opening the door for them to experience something they may otherwise miss out on. So if you can, please consider contributing to the Pay it Forward fund by selecting the Pay it Forward donation on either of our Open the Door events.

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The Devastating Endemic of Sexism in the Workplace

Shocking – but, unfortunately, perhaps not too surprising – new mental health statistics released by the Scottish Health Survey have shown that young women of the 16-24 age demographic have “significantly lower” levels of mental well-being and societal confidence compared to all other age groups of either gender, but also revealed that mental health conditions are incredibly poor across the entire country. 67% of men and women, from all backgrounds and demographics, reported suffering depression at some point in their life, with a further 22 per cent admitting to suicidal thoughts and hopeless feelings. Among this 22%, 12% described self-harming behaviour – the majority of which reported being young ladies under 24 years old.

Unfortunately, I can’t help but wonder how inexorably intertwined these horrible figures might be with some other gut-wrenching statistics I read this week, this time ones focusing on the endemic sexism and harassment women face in the Scottish workplace and the harmful effect it has on their self-confidence, future prospects and overall happiness. The figures I read, taken from violence against women charity Zero Tolerance’s tireless research, showed that a mammoth two-thirds of female employees had suffered or witnessed first-hand sexual harassment or unwanted attention at work, and one in ten female respondents had actually been subjected to physical or mental violence in the workplace, even up to, and sometimes including, rape. The findings caused Zero Tolerance to refer to the everyday workplace and its corrosive atmosphere as a “mental health time bomb”.

To make the figures even worse, over thirty per cent of the women were hesitant about whether their boss or employer would be sympathetic and take the necessary action – or even take them seriously – if they reported the issue, with some saying they had felt unable to report sexism or harassment for fear of retaliation or accusations that they had only got as far as they had because they had slept with management.

Since even before these figures were released, Zero Tolerance has been loudly and proudly calling for urgent action from workforce unions, employers and Holyrood to tackle the still-endemic attitudes, mysogyny and stereotyping which perpetuates virile and regressive levels of gender inequality, as well as to establish a more accessible and confidential infrastructure of mental support for women who experience illegal harassment at work. Zero Tolerance was the leading force in the development of the PACT; a programme for businesses in Scotland to help them tackle violence and harassment of women at work. The programme not only targets women experiencing harassment, but their male colleagues managers, too. Having more initiatives like PACT is so important, not just because it’s a sexism is an utterly pivotal issue in the mental and physical well-being of women workers, but also because equality in the workplace is a basic human right as supported by the law of the land.

Nevertheless, nearly two-thirds of the survey’s respondents couldn’t tell of any progressive measures being taken to squash sexism in their workplace, and 73% denied knowledge of any person or department in the ranks of their employer involved in that cause.

Despite all of this, the responses do show a clear desire for change in Scotland’s workplaces, not just from women but from their male counterparts, too. It’s not enough to just desire a change, however. Change needs to be put into action – there needs to be real effort put into making a solid difference. If employers can try to make some positive changes to the long-instilled attitudes of the workplace, we could make real strides in creating and inspiring a more gender equal society, and relieve a great strain off of the mental well-being and failing self-esteem of women and young women, like me, in particular.

There’s still a long way to go, though.

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House of Three Book Launch!

Come along to the library on the 25th of March to see the launch of the first volumes from the House of Three, a wonderful new poetry press.
This new press has published three volumes of poetry, with nine contributing artists who have each created new works for the project.
These incredible women are all currently Scotland based but come from a range of backgrounds and have a wide range of styles. As a taste of what to expect, here is a little information on the artists. For more information and to read their works, please go their websites and (even better!) come to the launch!
Tessa Berring is based in Edinburgh and is an artist as well as a writer. Her works intertwine as her writing compliments and responds to her artwork as well as found objects and her own personal history.
Jane Bonnyman is also from Edinburgh and had her first poetry pamphlet publish in 2016. Her writing is often inspired by her historical research.
Marjorie Lotfi Gill has done work with the library before. Her work is ekphrastic in nature, sometimes working from photographs. She has also created the Belonging Project, which runs workshops and exhibitions and looks at the experiences of refugees.
Pippa Goldschmidt writes works, including poetry and short stories inspired by science and is the writer-in-residence for the University of Edinburgh’s Science Technology and Innovation Unit.
Nalini Paul is a Glasgow based writer and has also worked with the library before. Her work is inspired by landscape, migration and memory. She has done various collaborations with other artists and has written from film and stage.
Katie Ailes is a spoken word poet with the collective Loud Poets. She has competed in slam poetry all across Scotland.
Iona Lee is another Slam poet and gained the title Scottish Slam Champion in 2016. She studies illustration and often accompanies her writing with her own art.
Logie Fielding writes poetry often themed around nature, often looking at different methods or angles of observation.
Katy Ewing is a rural based writer and artist. Her work often goes to dark and uneasy places as she explores themes such as childhood and memory.
House of Three aims to create beautiful books that show case the work of both established and emerging female writers, a wonderful goal that strongly connects to the GWL’s own philosophy. We’re very excited to see the launch and experience the incredible works of these women. Please come along and celebrate with us.
The book launch is on the 25th of March from 2.00pm to 4.00 pm. For more information please check the Glasgow Women’s Library website.

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Glasgow Women’s Library and award-winning theatre company Stellar Quines launch a new shelf of plays by women

Glasgow Women’s Library and Stellar Quines today unveiled a brand new Drama shelf in Scotland’s only women’s library in celebration of International Women’s Day. The shelf has been stocked from donations received through a successful joint Play Amnesty launched on 19 January.

Over the last month individuals, writers, publishers, theatre companies and organisations have donated over 100 new scripts to the GWL shelves.

The absence of a drama shelf prompted the companies to work together on the Amnesty and by collecting and championing these plays written by women, Glasgow Women’s Library and Stellar Quines aim to inspire and encourage the next generation of female playwrights.

I believe passionately that both theatres and libraries have the capacity to change lives, and hope that in browsing these shelves we will inspire some new theatre makers to begin their journey and discover their own voice in the theatre. – Jemima Levick, Stellar Quines

Today’s launch at Glasgow Women’s Library featured readings from GWL’s Drama Queens, playwriting workshops with Linda McLean and Lynda Radley and a Q&A with Stellar Quines Artistic Director Jemima Levick.

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Speaking Out Poetry Workshop Part II

While the Speaking Out: Recalling Women’s Aid in Scotland exhibition was on display at the Museum of Edinburgh, we held two wonderful creative writing workshops facilitated by the very talented feminist poet Nadine Aisha (@nadineaishaj, website). Material from the first workshop can be seen here. It seemed fitting to share work from the second workshop, held at the end of January, today on International Women’s Day, and to celebrate the strength, resilience and creativity of women by showcasing these beautiful poems.

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What are you bringing with you today?

Anxiety and good intentions.

A love of myself & of women.

An anger at the state of the world & a sadness that we’ve been forced to galvanise such anger.

Acknowledgement of myself & my experience. My ability & my voice.

An expectation that my voice will sound a siren of recognition in the women seated around me.

And that their words will move me to tears & revolution.

– Jamye Drohan

 

 

Original artwork by Jo Gray to accompany her poem below.

 

 

The following poem is in response to a writing exercise where participants were asked to think about Angela Davis’s quote ‘walls turned sideways are bridges’.

 

Image from the Scottish Women’s Aid archive at Glasgow Women’s Library. Workshop participants responded to this image to create the poems below inspired by the brevity and power of poets such as Rupi Kaur (www.rupikaur.com).

 

 

 

 

And a final reflection on the day…

 

 

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