Tiana Coven’s Review of RECLAIM: An Anthology of Women’s Poetry

Reclaim is an anthology of poetry that aims to “address the need for reclamation of women’s autonomy over their bodies, as a response to their endured oppression as members of a society tainted with capitalist-patriarchal standards.” This anthology includes so many talented women in the poetry community and the content covers so many different experiences. Each individual poem comes together beautifully to create an anthology that feels so authentically intersectional.

It’s one thing to identify as an intersectional feminist and it’s another thing to actually put action into the identity and create a space where we can have open conversations about how the systems in power negatively affect women. This is what Elizabeth has done when she curated this anthology that is so open and honest about womanhood. Each poem is a knock out, but for the purpose of this review I’m going to share some of my favorites and what they meant to me.

            The first poem in the collection, “Decolonising the Body” by Umang Kalra, sets the precedent for the anthology. This poem to me puts into words the violence of colonization both in large and smaller forms. In her lines-

 

“they sunk their knives into our beings asking

why we wouldn’t grow forests on our tongues,

they want to pluck from the folds of our skin the fruit

that only grows in these parts

of us”

 

she gives such a profound image of colonizers literally plucking what grows naturally on the marginalized body, or in other words what comes natural to their culture. It’s difficult to put into words the anger that stems from marginalized cultures being stolen from and poorly reproduced by the “majority,” but Umang does this so eloquently.

Moving on to the second poem featured, “Training Bras” by Wanda Deglane sends me back to my middle school days as she paints the scene of how young girl’s bodies are put on display as they grow. Her lines-

 

“there are girls among us whose

bodies are already rose gardens

– bras already filled by fifth

grade and curves flowing in and out like drunken roads.

we watch them with jealousy and pity interweaving in our

chests-”

 

are particularly memorable to me. I think back to my eighth-grade year and the constant torment that puberty was putting us all through. There was a particular girl who roamed the halls with confidence that I now know must have been built through the trauma of having such a developed body at a young age. The kids in my grade all gossiped openly about her and speculated about what she must be getting up to with the boys, all because of her breast size. We were only thirteen. Wanda brings these emotions back to me as I remember how I felt looking at her as she walked the halls with her head held high- jealous that all eyes were on her, but also sad that she would never be able to escape the body that caused so many snickers and whistles.

Not only do the words hit hard in this anthology, but there is a visual aspect to three of the poems in particular that left an impact on me. The first being “Fat Girls On Trains” by Djamilla Mercurio. In her poem, Djamilla gives me, a skinny woman, a glimpse as to what it feels like to be stigmatized because of her weight through the visual aspect of her poem. She writes about feeling like she’s taking up too much space and as the poem closes, she gradually spaces out the words as if to physically take up the space that others have made her feel like her body is doing too much of. This aspect fits so perfectly with the theme of the poem and is a perfect example of how spacing can be used to convey an emotion to the reader.

“In the Flicker: A Fable” by Alison Rumfitt is the second poem that impressed me through the pacing style, and my personal favorite poem in the entire anthology. Alison’s piece reads like a story in verse and tells such a captivating tale of a trans woman in a world that feels somehow worldly and fantastical at the same time. I literally couldn’t look away from the page, afraid I would miss an important part of the story. The unique story-telling method allowed me just a glimpse into the fear that trans women face every day-

 

“MEN: What a beautiful night

SHE scrambles up. The people in the kebab shop look at her

limping with a half hearted curiosity,

if you’re out this late, then you’re ready

to die , really, the MEN move behind her, the streetlamp

is up ahead—

SHE: Moths! Please help me! Please!

But they do not answer.”

 

As a cis woman, this poem is like seeing the fear of being murdered or mistreated because of transphobia/transmisogyny through a squint. The image is blurry since I can never truly know this feeling, but Alison’s narrative chills me to the bone as the poem allows me to catch a peek into the horror of the line: “if you’re out this late, then you’re ready/to die.”

The third poem that impressed me with its pacing style was “For Reyna Marroquín” by Eloise Birtwhistle. This poem tells a story in three simple parts, each section following a year. In the simplicity of its layout, I learn of the story of Reyna from her journey to America to her body being discovered years after her murder. Its simplicity devastates me- as the short poem separates Reyna’s life, and death, into the three parts that we would most likely read in a newspaper about her murder. But by using the separation of each section through dates, Eloise allows for the reader to fill in the blanks on the heartbreaking story of a Salvadorian woman who left the comfort of her home and family for presumably a better future through economic means. But when she arrived in a land that was marketed as a way to kickstart her future, she was met by the indifference of a country that never thought to look for a Salvadorian woman who went missing. The simple poem pays tribute to a story that represents how women of color can be so easily discarded and forgotten, especially when they have been labeled as immigrants. The poem leaves off in 1999, when Reyna’s body was found. But what’s changed?

I want to give an honorable shout out to Marisa Crane’s “We Get to Talking About Dating Apps & I Remember How.” She writes in depth about experiences that are so common for lesbians as they navigate womanhood. As a lesbian, I often notice that our experiences are most often not mentioned in anthologies that focus on women’s oppression- an implication that we are not fully woman at all. Marisa’s unyielding recollection on her experience as a gay woman was one I was so grateful to read. Plus, her lines-

 

“The only difference between

the men & our flag is the expectation

of kneeling before one & not

the other.”

put a smirk on my face.

 

The last poem I want to talk a bit about is “Untitled” by Jean-Marie Bub. This poem is a statement as to what so many of those whose reproductive rights are being stripped away in the United States right now are feeling. Jean-Marie writes, “she who harbors humanity/ should control her own fate.” Such a simple statement, but the point of the poem strikes deep- those who wield the power to reproduce should always be in charge of the choice to use that power or not. Period. This poem feels like a call-out to anyone who can’t wrap their head around why anyone would choose to have an abortion. In her poem, Jean-Marie basically says that if you can’t understand the why- then mind your own business. I love this sentiment.

Like I said in the beginning of this review, every single poem in this collection is so refreshingly honest and deserves all the praise. Overall, this anthology is a must read- hearing women’s experiences through their own words is so important to every one of us, especially in our current sociopolitical climate. Well done.

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