Books I’ve read recently – Four books by women in 2015

Red Rosa by Kate Evans – I got this wonderful graphic biography for Christmas and devoured it straight away. It is a deeply moving and hiRosa Luxemburgghly informative account of the important life of Rosa Luxemburg with gorgeous illustrations. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there’s so much less research and writing on Rosa Luxemburg than on her male contemporaries and this is a really valuable and beautiful introduction to her life and work. It’s both a sad and incredibly inspiring story and I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in Marxism, labour movements and revolutionary history as well as to anyone in need of a bit of inspiration from a strong female character. The book is punctuated with extracts from Rosa’s diaries and these are expanded on in the notes section. She had a truly wonderful way with words.

Loop of Jade by Sarah Howe – I’m part of a poetry book club with a few of my friends that I made in the writing society at the University of Manchester. This month we read and discussed Loop of Jade. Our meeting was the day after it (very deservedly) won the T.S Eliot prloop of jadeize so we felt pretty on the money in our choice and we all really enjoyed it. Loop of Jade is a vivid and emotive exploration of place and identity packed with beautifully balanced and well-structured poems. Some  people out there were upset with the collection’s success and attributed it to the poet’s gender, youth and ‘presentability’, I’m sorry to say that this is the sort of argument that’s habitually groped for when a young, clever woman wins a prize.

Personally, I thought it was inspiring and exciting to have a young woman win a prize usually reserved for the likes of David Harsent whose (not all that good, in my opinion) Fire Songs won in 2014. Loop of Jade is a well-crafted book that balances intellectualism and heart in perfect proportions. Oliver Thring’s interview with Sarah Howe in the Sunday Times was sneering and dismissive of her work and achievements and caused outrage online from women he branded ‘deranged poetesses.’ There was a hashtag, something poetry-related actually began trending on Twitter. It was all quite exciting. And it was great to see the poetic community out in force defending one of our best young writers who is getting the recognition she deserves.  You can find out more about the whole debacle in this Guardian article. You can also watch Sarah performing Crossing from Guandong (one of my favourite poems of the collection). My only criticism of Sarah is, as a performer, I think she comes across as stilted and slightly wooden in a way that lets her lyrical poetry down somewhat. Of course, her poetry is meant for page rather than stage so thankfully this aspect is not too important.  

Honourable Friends? Parliament and the fight for change by Caroline Lucas. What a woman! To say Caroline Lucas is inspiring is an understatement: to soldier on in the face of so much bureaucracy and willful ignorance is just incredible. Most of what she writes about the inefficiency and corruption of parliament was sadly all too familiar to me but there were two big shockers…

1. MPs are actually holding us back on climate change, their opinions are not as progressive as ours. Caroline writes of Parliament’s unrepresentativeness that

[Parliament] has become a break in our collective response, rather than a way of enabling it. Part of the problem is that in many cases MPs are selected by a very narrow group of people. Conservative MPs in particular are detached from public opinion on climate change… three-quarters of people in Britain believe the climate is changing because of human activity; but among MPs, this falls to half, while a staggering 71% of Conservative MPs think that induced climate change is either unproven or C lucas‘environmentalist propaganda.’ So those who should be leading the country on this issue are actually dragging us backwards.” That really shocked me, perhaps I’m naive but…I mean SHIT.

2. Caroline also tells us that she was “Alarmed to discover that there were not less than twenty-three policy advisers in the department (of energy and climate change) who were employees from outside organisations including Centrica (owners of British Gas) and the German energy company RWE. This is a pattern across government and reflected in the number of civil servants seconded to business, and whilst the government claim that it is important that civil servants understand the perspective of business, there is no similar push to ensure civil servants understand the charity or third sectors…our civil and political masters should act in the interests of the country as a whole, not one section of it. What is good for UK Plc, as business leaders like to call our country, is not necessarily good for the rest of us.” Well, quite. This huge amount of seconding of business people into the civil service and vice versa came as a complete surprise to me and, in my opinion, is pretty damaging.

All in all, this is a great book that provides an excellent insight into the workings of parliament. It’s slightly dispiriting, though, when she keeps on looking hopefully forward to an end to Conservative coalition rule come the 2015 election, telling us that another five years of Tory rule will be a disaster. Well we all know how that one ends…

JutlandJutland – Selima Hill – This is a wonderful book and another T.S Eliot Prize shortlister. Jutland uses a surreal distancing and absurdity as well some structures of nursery rhymes to tackle some dark and uncomfortable subject matter. I found the surrealism a really interesting way to deal with tricky topics. The book is split into two contrasting long poem sequences ‘Advice on wearing animal prints’ and ‘Sunday afternoon at the gravel pits’. It’s bold, unusual and adventurous and does one of the things that, in my opinion, poetry does best absolutely brilliantl. It condenses experience and feeling down into neat, intense little units that really pack a punch. I found it fascinating how the poems within each sequence related to one another as well and it’s inspired me to have a go at long sequences of poems myself. Have a read of the Poetry Book Society’s review.

So there we are: four books, all by women, all published in 2015. If you do decide to give them a read, I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.


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