By Jasmine Simms and Helen Bowell, co-directors of Dead [Women] Poets Society and guest editors of this issue’s focus.
How many dead woman poets have you read? Between 2008 and 2018, only 28% of published translations were of women’s work – and yet, as you’ll see in this issue’s focus, there has never been a shortage of brilliant women writers. At Dead [Women] Poets Society, we trace the lineage between poets of today and their literary great-great- grandmothers. Since 2015, we have ‘resurrected’ women poets at ‘séances’ around the country, working with contemporary writers to bring more aention to poets like Anna Wickham, June Jordan and Mina Loy.
We have loved guest-editing MPT. Translation is always a kind of resurrection: translators by definition act as ‘medium’ between poet and reader. But bringing anyone back to life is a risky business, and is a power we must wield with care. In Bebe Ashley’s kintsugi constructed from Sappho’s fragments, Sappho wonders how she will be read and remembered in the future. When she asks herself, ‘Sappho, who is doing you wrong?’ we are reminded of the translator’s responsibilities, and the risks of misrepresentation, of ‘doing them wrong’. Suzannah Evans speaks to this, writing of Nadia Anjuman, ‘I was keen not to try to speak for her at any point’. Meanwhile, Rosanna Hildyard notes with irony in her introduction that Màiri Mhòr nan Òran would not have wanted her work translated into English at all.
But there are reasons to translate, and reasons to read works in translation. Belinda Zhawi renders the story of an economic migrant who returns an outsider, in her commissioned translation of Noémia de Sousa’s ‘Magaiça’. ‘I have become such a migrant,’ she writes in her introduction. It is that feeling of recognition, of I am this, too, that we are hoping to find.
Women poets are often associated with tragedy. We wanted this issue to represent a diversity of women’s experiences – both ‘Gwerful Watches Her Friend Take a Shit’ and ‘One Hundred Short Tales of Cruelty’ – and also a sisterhood. Ordered chronologically, the poets featured span four millennia and several continents, and yet they seem to speak to one another. We were immediately struck by the recurring motif of fire, from Jessica Wood’s title ‘Origins of the Fire Emoji’, to the burning houses in Lakshmi Holmström’s work, to Marina Tsvetaeva’s image of a fizzing match and ‘everything always | on fire’. We hope you feel, as we do, that this issue is also 🔥.
We are beyond grateful to the individuals and organisations who contributed to and shared our crowdfunding campaign, without whom this Dead [Women] Poets focus would not have been possible. We are grateful, as ever, to our illustrator Lily Arnold for the artwork on the cover and interior, as well as to The Writing Squad, who helped to facilitate a translation workshop with young writers, and who have supported Dead [Women] Poets Society from the start. Finally, our biggest thanks go to the MPT team for so generously allowing us to guest-edit the focus for this issue, and holding our hands through the whole process. For ‘who could take anything from us | when we stride through streets | with our hands held together?’
Love, fire and solidarity, Jasmine and Helen
Dead [Women] Poets Society