Binders Full of Women

“Make it as political as hell, and make it irrevocably 

– Toni Morrison
are Sarah Crewe, Nia Davies, Amy Evans, Maria Gornell, Sarah Hesketh, Kirsten Irving, Mara Katz, Rowena Knight, Melissa Lee-Houghton, Agnes Marton, Sophie Mayer, Sally McAlister, Michelle McGrane, slmendoza, Steph Pike, Chella Quint, Nat Raha, Shelagh M. Rowan-Legg, Jacqueline Saphra, Claire Trévien, Jackie Wills, Alison Winch.
Editors, Sarah Crewe and Sophie Mayer, write:
Threats to society. Shouty women, scroungers on benefits, queers, trannies, boys in lipstick, girls in suits. This is how Republicans see it. This is how Tories see it. This is how every right wing government sees it.

Those of us screaming out of the Binders Full of Women see things differently. We have to, because we are these “threats to society”.

We see inequality as the greatest ill of the times we live in. We recognise that rape has existed as a weapon since the beginning of time. It is biblical, it is prehistoric, medieval, Victorian. Yet in the age of media as the fourth estate, we are horrified to witness the double standards, the culture of blame, the glorification of this sick malfunction of the pathetic on television screens, in cinemas.

We have a situation whereby a man is allowed to take refuge in an Ecuadorian embassy from rape charges, as opposed to being sent to face trial, and hailed as a hero by the socialist press. Is it any wonder that we feel let down, and disillusioned by the lack of voice for the feminist cause?

It’s no wonder, but it’s not the only possible response, as our collaborators prove. Their work, arriving in our inboxes daily, lifted us up, made us rage with them, laugh with them, cry with them and celebrate with them. They name gender violence – misogyny, homophobia, transphobia – and reclaim the bodies that are subject to it. They extend love, joy, pleasure, rage, beauty, thought, art, and activism as strategies of reclamation for you, the reader, to share.

Twenty-two poets who identify as female, trans, intersex or gender-neutral consented to be bound in Binders Full of Women. Rather than speak for them (as patriarchy tends to do), we’d rather let their voices be heard, collectively describing why they contributed to the anthology, and what the anthology is – so, after a bit of crucial information about where the proceeds from Binders are going – there’s a sampler of fantastic lines, in alphabetical order by poet, that adds up to an introduction, a manifesto and (with a tip of the hat to Le Tigre) a symphony of the sound of women defiantly refusing to swallow their own tongues.

Raising our voices together has been powerful: using them to raise money and awareness for two crucial UK-based organisations, both threatened by increasing conservatism and loss of funding, has felt more powerful still.

Choosing Rape Crisis seemed like the most positive action we could take. Not just though donating money, but by raising awareness of the fact that such an important facility exists for survivors. The word is so ugly that it’s difficult to type: but rape needs to be talked about and confronted. If by reading Binders just one person becomes incensed by the horror of rape, raises the profile of rape crisis, asks their local politician exactly what they intend to do to ensure that this issue starts getting treated with the action it requires, then that’s good enough for us.

The Michael Causer Foundation is a charity based in Liverpool to help LGBT young people find crisis accommodation and support. Michael was a gay teenager who was brutally assaulted and later died. He was attacked after one of his killers found sexually explicit images on his mobile phone as he slept upstairs at a house party. Ridiculously, one of the gang claimed “self defence” against a boy who suffered a fractured skull at the hands of their violence. This defendant walked free.

Michael’s mother could have easily locked the doors and grieved for life. Instead, she set up the Foundation in memory of her son, to help the community her son was a part of and to aid those at risk from the type of vicious prejudice that led to the death of her son. It is hard for us to imagine the strength of her courage. It is also a reminder of just how difficult life can be for LGBT young people to be accepted in their communities. In spite of state, systemic and individual cruelty, it is good to know that support is out there for those who need it.

These continuing acts of violence are hateful. Yet the work of both the poets and these charities that emerges in response to them is open, affective, exciting, caring and transformative. It’s imperative, as the poems argue, that we highlight these issues, by standing together and speaking collectively.
          we are sewing the clitoral jewels on all the pretty dresses

          And of course I thought about Mossycoat. She singles out

          material all a round

          following the signs

          wants to kiss away these names that linger

          It made the Echo: a quarter-column

          before I grew them, I knew they were mine

          warning that there could be no return

          at the funeral your mother said she knew about me

          Or Julie, sometimes this/that.

          you pick-axe crackers of cunt psephology

          Call it what you would love better

          a girl like that, what did she expect?

          mouth opens suddenly and makes the click of

          we stink of blood and sweat and piss

          and laughing, for all the right reasons

          or narratives rendered through medical ciscentricism

          The playbill is stapled to my chest

          would you, with longing, spread your legs for this

          cuties [but no bitches, hussies, ladettes, matrons


          But in on the cosmic joke.
A Steel Kiss
Maria Gornell
It’s cold tonight
the moon looks
down with a steel
eye that refuses
to melt.

He wore a coat of flame
stole the breath
from my lungs

followed my trail
like a dog that
claimed its territory.

Promised to turn the world gold
with a Midas touch

that looks a bleak grey tonight
a stiff corpse frozen
in unfulfilled hollow
words that

echo a sound of suffering.
He will sleep with the devil
tonight; dream of a black mane
and eyes of truth he cannot bear.

A coward that took himself
out of the equation and
sabotaged his own

Tonight he wears a coat
of shame. The cold night
covers him in icicles
a steel kiss
to his heart

and I keep on
following the signs.
Race Against the Cure
Mara Katz
When I was a child I learned
not to let anyone I didn’t love touch my breasts.
Before I grew them, I knew they were mine
and the job was mine of protecting them.

But breasts in my family
are hard to take care of.
My father’s mother met the woman her son would marry
just once
because of her breasts.
Back then there was no cure.
My mother sacrificed her breasts
and was in pain for a year
so she could live for my sister and me.

You want to tell me
whether I shall die like my grandmother
or be cured like my mother
all because I have breasts.

With all your money, you don’t know what they’re worth.
Rowena Knight
The rules were arbitrary, but sharp as steel;
we let them be. We all
wore satin boxer shorts,
studied the changing room floor,
and shaved.

Tights were not an option,
in the same way that gravity exists.
My sister instructed me on technique,
warning there could be no return;
blunt hairs would only seem more riotous.

Still I prized my cheap Bic razor,
a golden ticket to anonymity.
I triumphed over each little black snake.

There was blood, of course,
sometimes laddering my legs.
But scabs served as badges,
proof that I was trying.

At eleven I was desperate
to feel like a woman who has to cull
the conflict of stubble,
who searches for a child
with a razor.
Jacqueline Saphra
(after Epstein’s Adam)
His cock hangs at half mast; it’s primed to score:
rising, monstrous; nothing like those bland
and flaccid members in rooms 3 and 4.
Drunk on lust, pumped up with blood, he stands
broad on his plinth and howls for cunt. Who’d dare
to leave his call unanswered? This is where
we find the source: that first, primeval sin:
he forced an opening, she let him in.

Later they wrote she asked for it – her pink
seductive flesh, the bruise and not the kiss.
You ask who wrote those books: who do you think?
Would you, with longing, spread your legs for this,
bear more like him? It seems so far to fall.
Must this man be the father of us all?
Order your Binder Full of Women here.

2 thoughts on “Binders Full of Women

  1. Sophie Mayer

    Reblogged this on Binders Full of Women's Poems and commented:
    Michelle McGrane has posted about Binders on the wonderful Peony Moon. You can read sample poems by contributors Maria Gornell, Mara Katz, Rowena Knight, and Jacqueline Saphra, plus a brand new collaborative poem by all the contributors! And a word from the editors about the charities the project is supporting.

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