Tag Archives: Emer Gillespie Demeter

Protest Against Rape: Monday * May be triggering *

Before the reader embarks on reading these poems, the editors stress that some content may be found disturbing, troubling or even distressing. Sexual violence is an emotive subject, and some writing about rape is as exploitative as the crime itself. Such writing in the context of politics, the media or literature can constitute a “double violation” for the rape survivor who lives the experience for a second time: the experience of “triggering”. Encounters with sexual violence as a subject for literature demand caution, care and respect, but an interrogation of “rape myths” is necessary. The poems selected break the silence of the status-quo, which defines sexual violence as a freak event rather than part of a dominative “rape culture”. This protest is the beginning of a conversation that seeks recuperation, healing and redress.
Please note that submissions are closed. 
The introduction to our protest can be read here.
Please refer to our list of International Resources for Rape Support here.


© Lien Botha, from Portrette (1995)

© Lien Botha, from Portrette (1995)

Rape Poem
Marge Piercy
There is no difference between being raped
and being pushed down a flight of cement steps
except that the wounds also bleed inside.

There is no difference between being raped
and being run over by a truck
except that afterward men ask if you enjoyed it.

There is no difference between being raped
and being bit on the ankle by a rattlesnake
except that people ask if your skirt was short
and why you were out alone anyhow.

There is no difference between being raped
and going head first through a windshield
except that afterward you are afraid
not of cars
but half the human race.

The rapist is your boyfriend’s brother.
He sits beside you in the movies eating popcorn.
Rape fattens on the fantasies of the normal male
like a maggot in garbage.

Fear of rape is a cold wind blowing
all of the time on a woman’s hunched back.
Never to stroll alone on a sand road through pine woods,
never to climb a trail across a bald
without that aluminum in the mouth
when I see a man climbing toward me.

Never to open the door to a knock
without that razor just grazing the throat.
The fear of the dark side of hedges
the back seat of the car, the empty house
rattling keys like a snake’s warning.
The fear of the smiling man
in whose pocket is a knife.
The fear of the serious man
in whose fist is locked hatred.

All it takes to cast a rapist to be able to see your body
as jackhammer, as blowtorch, as adding-machine-gun.
All it takes is hating that body
your own, your self, your muscle that softens to flab.

All it takes is to push what you hate,
what you fear onto the soft alien flesh.
To bucket out invincible as a tank
armored with treads without senses
to possess and punish in one act,
to rip up pleasure, to murder those who dare
live in the leafy flesh open to love.
Published in Circles in the Water (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1982).
Reproduced with the author’s permission.

© Victoria Bean, ‘Bang bang’, hand sewn Helvetica, unique edition

© Victoria Bean, ‘Bang bang’, hand sewn Helvetica, unique edition

Bang bang
Victoria Bean
I’m on my way
to Hades, ladies

you coming?
Ladies lie

on concrete
still and listen

while they cry –
it’s war baby.

So who’s the one
they can’t forgive?

The one who says
you’ll live, or

the one who says
they’re sorry.

© Cassandra Gordon-Harris, ‘On The Edge of Time’

© Cassandra Gordon-Harris, ‘On The Edge of Time’
Oil painting

I Give You Back
Joy Harjo
I release you, my beautiful and terrible
fear. I release you. You were my beloved
and hated twin, but now, I don’t know you
as myself. I release you with all the
pain I would know at the death of
my children.

You are not my blood anymore.

I give you back to the soldiers
who burned down my house, beheaded my children,
raped and sodomized my brothers and sisters.
I give you back to those who stole the
food from our plates when we were starving.

I release you, fear, because you hold
these scenes in front of me and I was born
with eyes that can never close.

I release you
I release you
I release you
I release you

I am not afraid to be angry.
I am not afraid to rejoice.
I am not afraid to be black.
I am not afraid to be white.
I am not afraid to be hungry.
I am not afraid to be full.
I am not afraid to be hated.
I am not afraid to be loved.

to be loved, to be loved, fear.

Oh, you have choked me, but I gave you the leash.
You have gutted me but I gave you the knife.
You have devoured me, but I laid myself across the fire.

I take myself back, fear.
You are not my shadow any longer.
I won’t hold you in my hands.
You can’t live in my eyes, my ears, my voice
my belly, or in my heart my heart
my heart my heart

But come here, fear
I am alive and you are so afraid
                                                 of dying.
Published in How We Became Human: New and Selected Poems: 1975 – 2001
(W.W. Norton and Company Inc., 2002).
Reproduced with the author’s permission.

© Victoria Bean, ‘Bang bang’, hand sewn Helvetica

© Victoria Bean, ‘Bang bang’, hand sewn Helvetica

Growing Grove of Laurel Trees
Valeria Melchioretto
Below the belt where the Gordian Knot is still uncut
ancient Aphrodite long since confused love and lust
while seedy Zeus is free to rule with phallic thunder.

No disguise is too sly as he hunts with crude desire:
He turns into a swan, a white bull or a pissy shower
exploits and cons and conquers through selfish power.

Did no one dare protest about these sickening deeds?
Phlegyas faced the Gods and was punished in return
seen by Dante in the circle of hell where the sullen dwell.

Poor Castalia got away by becoming a speaking spring
and those who drink from her can hear a lyric lament
others were spared as Gaia turned them into laurel trees.

Because white noise has it that in that oracular tradition
even a tree is more sacred than a woman’s dignity.
Endless list of victims: Coronis, Europa, Leda, Melia.

Unwilling nymphs are labelled ‘lying nymphomaniacs’
taken to shameful woods and dragged through mire
then banned to Lesbos, lonely rocks or harder places.

If offspring hatched from eggs foul play was obvious
but subtler hints were denied even by night’s furies.
Zeus begot Apollo, rape begot rape; the curse stayed myth.

© Alel

© Alel

From Philomela
Gill McEvoy
I touch the cigarette
to my arm.
Here. And here.

I cannot speak of it.

I could touch this fuse
to my chair,
watch it smoulder,
flame to roaring fury.

I told no-one.

The burned flesh is not
the heat of his hand
across my mouth.

The sour smell of match
is not the stink of his breath.

I didn’t go to the police.

I wasn’t asking for it.

I was not asking for it.
I have cancelled
the way my body could not fight
the rugby scrum of him.

The little heartbeat I will say
is my own heartbeat.

When its time comes
I’ll demand strong drugs.

It will be handed on
to someone else.

And none of this will have happened.
Back Street
They lead me to a table
where later they will sit and eat.

The women weave about with bowls and cloths,
fold my trembling legs to raise my knees.

One draws on rubber gloves.
She takes a pump, its ball bright orange
in that room of hush and shadow.

They close around me,
hissing through my parted knees
in their strange tongue,
each one familiar with this art.

Pain. The room goes dark.

Out of the darkness
someone whispers, “Come!”

They make me totter to the street.
I find my way alone,
clutching at walls.

© Malgorzata Lazarek

© Malgorzata Lazarek

Sophie Mayer
My mouth used to hold
your water. A vase I was (say:
vessel) all floral-spoked
& speaking: pure pure pure
as law. This

knuckle clavicle

chewed & throated to you. Choker,
much. Narrow as they say &

o my mouth

knuckle clavicle

unholds your water,
sweet source. Loosener,
marsh-runner, our lady of
statuary hung among
trees. Chatelaine of strange
fruit & the bloodied tunic.
Found object, little wing,
thin veneer of angel
on the verge. Kill me
now, before I turn, before
I fly. I

knuckle clavicle

mouth an O
cannot no
let him leave me
from you. No
nock me, fingers
to my fletch, forever
your girl, prayerful
this fall & broken no


that I am no woman no
dawn gives thanks.
Thirteen times
& strike.
Note: Phylactery – or tefillin – are leather arm bindings worn by observant Jewish men for morning prayers, which include an expression of gratitude to God that he had not made them female.

© Victoria Bean, ‘Bang bang’, hand sewn lower case Helvetica

© Victoria Bean, ‘Bang bang’, hand sewn lower case Helvetica

Shazea Quraishi
Once more this
pressing of bodies, his desire
beating against me as the eagle’s wings
against the air that lifts him up, up.

My body has learned to soften
and bend, but my heart,
like a child who will not listen, clings
to a soft, grubby thing.

After I have washed the sweat,
the trails of saliva from my skin,
I stand at the open window,
let the breeze dry my face.
Published in The Courtesans Reply (flipped eye publishing, 2012).
Reproduced with the author’s permission.

© Diane Victor, ‘Little straight dress’

© Diane Victor, ‘Little straight dress’

Lesson from the Gospel
Helen Moffett
Last night he grabbed my breast,
jerked my hair, called me a whore;
this morning he kneels in church,
eyes shut, hands devout in prayer.
This diptych is no stranger to God’s house:
first, the outrages raining on egg-shell flesh
and reeling ears; next, the pose of public piety.

These events transpired half a life ago.
No helplines then, no thought of blaming
anyone but myself.

But God helps those who help themselves;
like countless others, I survived.
While church, state and law all looked aside,
I harvested a rustling crop of rage:
as a child who tilts a bubbling pot knows pain –
I’d know the stink of whitened sepulchre again.
Published in Incwadi.
Reproduced with the author’s permission.

© Virginia Erdie, ‘Tangerine Dream’ from the collection ‘Not just an ICON …’

© Virginia Erdie, ‘Tangerine Dream’ from ‘Not just an ICON …’
36″ x 36″ on wood, with cardboard, molding paste and resin

Helen Ivory
My father made me a dress
from patches of sky
on my mother’s old sewing machine.
He stitched them together
with lengths of her hair
and carved all the buttons
from her neat white teeth
but I would not give him my heart.

My father made me a dress
from the light of the moon
pinned into place
with her fine finger bones.
He made me a dress as bright as the sun
and sewed her gold wedding ring
into the hem
but I would not give him my hand.

My father offered me
the pelt of his dog —
how quickly his knife
freed that beast from its skin.
I climbed inside while it was still warm,
zipped it up tight
then walked into the fire
so he could not give me his love.
Published in Waiting for Bluebeard (Bloodaxe Books, 2013).
Reproduced with the author’s permission.

© Cassandra Gordon-Harris, ‘First Breath’

© Cassandra Gordon-Harris, ‘First Breath’
Oil painting

Karen Jane Cannon
You cloud lenses, suck
colour from the earth to enhance your glow.

Your sister moon brings peace, monthly flows
but you burn with a desire to steal

the glow of young girls, inflict
wounds too deep to salve.

You eat away what the moon has given.

Persephone on pomegranate seeds,
keep her safe in her underworld winter. Let other girls

throw away their clothes, be betrayed
by cancerous rays. Hide

in the shadow of a sundial, worship
a plummeting vial of mercury.

© Patricia Wallace Jones, ‘Loss’

© Patricia Wallace Jones, ‘Loss’

From ‘Demeter’
Emer Gillespie

For nine days and nine longer nights,
I searched everywhere.
In shopping malls I put up posters of my daughter,
‘Missing’. In Westfield, gangs of girls linked arms
and passed them by without looking.
The hive hummed on without her.
In ancient times the Minotaur was locked up
deep within the bowels of the Earth.
A winding maze, a Labyrinth,
designed by Daedalus, father of ambitious Icarus,
kept him in his place. The price?
Seven boys and seven girls brought to
satisfy his appetite for human flesh.
All know that Theseus defeated him.
The Minotaur is dead, but the Beast lives on.
This annual harvest of our girls –
year in, year out, it comes about;
no one knows who next or when.
At least in ancient times the victims
found some glory. Their plight, their sacrifice,
bought freedom for the rest.
Now we lose our perfect daughters one by one.
Each sordid story soils our whole society.
I knew someone had seen just her sex –
not my Persephone.
Published in The Instinct Against Death (Pindrop Press, 2012).
Reproduced with the author’s permission.

A Prayer for my Children
Geoffrey Philp
When you find yourself in a faraway land
surrounded by men, animals that mutter strange
sounds, do not be afraid: neither you, your parents,

nor your ancestors have ever been alone.
So trust the earth to bear you up, follow
the wind as it leads you through valleys

clustered with trees heavy with fruit –
some that seem familiar enough to eat,
but you still aren’t sure they are the same

as the ones you left on the other side
of the river that you’ve now forgotten.
Eat. Feast on the bounty. Feed the fire

that burns away the knot in your stomach,
sets ablaze the horizon, all that your eyes
can see – that has been promised

to you since your cry pierced the morning air:
your parents bathed you with kisses,
baptized you with caresses,

swaddled you in care before you uttered
your first words to the moon, sun, stars,
wobbled your first steps into unknowing –

all the while rising into your inheritance.
And if you awaken under the branches of a cotton
tree, cradled in its roots, draw a circle around

yourself and all those whom you love, cross
yourself three times before you step over
the threshold. Welcome the ancestors,

all the kindly spirits who have followed you,
your parents across many seas, oceans,
and deserts; entertain them with strong drink

and soft food: rice, yams, bananas, the ever
present rum to bless the hands that have lifted
you up, and sanctified the place you now call home.
Published in Dub Wise (Peepal Tree Press Ltd, 2010).
Reproduced with the author’s permission.

Emer Gillespie’s The Instinct Against Death

Emer Gillespie
Emer Gillespie began her career as an actress appearing in films such as Sammy and Rosie Get Laid and The Cook, the Thief, his Wife and her Lover and on television in Chimera, Ultraviolet and Troubles. She began to write in her early thirties and has published two novels, Virtual Stranger, which was long-listed for the WH Smith first novel award and Five Dead Men. Emer has won or placed in several script competitions in the United Kingdom and the United States and last year she was awarded a Writers Development Award through Northern Ireland Screen and the BFI for her feature thriller, The Agreement. She was also selected for the Women in Film and Television Mentor Scheme, which runs throughout 2012. She is currently finishing a new novel set in Ireland in the 1970s and is also working towards an MA in Poetry and Translation at the University of Kent. Poetry has always been her main interest and private passion. Brought up in Belfast, Emer lives and works in London.
 The Instinct Against Death

The Instinct Against Death (Pindrop Press, 2012) is a book in two parts. The first section comprises a long poem, in the form of a dramatic monologue, which retells the Demeter myth. This is a form that Emer is well placed to write, understanding not only how to hold a reader’s attention, but also how to keep an audience spellbound. ‘Demeter’ is an astonishing achievement – Emer has taken the myth and retold it in a way that transcends time. The voice of Demeter is wholly believable and to sustain this through a poem of length is quite a feat. The sequence is especially successful when read aloud, which speaks to its origins in both myth and the epic/long poem. In the second half of the book, Emer has collected a series of powerful, fiercely honest poems, which write of the every day, the hearth, the heart, yet are infused with magic and myth.”
“Emer Gillespie is a writer for whom ‘the magical’ and ‘the real’ can be effortlessly, exquisitely blended, resulting in rich, psychologically complex, nuanced poetry. In the stunning opening sequence, using direct, energetic language, Gillespie re-imagines the story of Demeter’s search for her lost daughter, Persephone, both as a classical myth and as an agonised contemporary tale of loss, learning and redemption. Demeter’s pain is palpable, visceral, eternal. Throughout this collection, Gillespie examines, with unflinching clarity and a restless quest for personal honesty, motherhood, love and friendship, with all their complexities, contradictions, unspoken betrayals. Emer Gillespie is a courageous poet who deals in blood and sunlight, grief and birdsong.”

– Catherine Smith
“‘Whose loss brings darkness?” I have been hoping to see this book happen ever since Emer’s powerful and mesmerising performance of the opening dramatic monologue. As deceptively nonchalant in her contemporary spin on the ancients as Eavan Boland, she controls our attention in story and sonnet till we can in fact hear a pin drop.”

– Medbh McGuckian
from Demeter
For nine days and nine longer nights,
I searched everywhere.
In shopping malls I put up posters of my daughter,
‘Missing’. In Westfield, gangs of girls linked arms
and passed them by without looking.
The hive hummed on without her.
In ancient times the Minotaur was locked up
deep within the bowels of the Earth.
A winding maze, a Labyrinth,
designed by Daedalus, father of ambitious Icarus,
kept him in his place. The price?
Seven boys and seven girls brought to
satisfy his appetite for human flesh.
All know that Theseus defeated him.
The Minotaur is dead, but the Beast lives on.
This annual harvest of our girls –
year in, year out, it comes about;
no one knows who next or when.
At least in ancient times the victims
found some glory. Their plight, their sacrifice,
bought freedom for the rest.
Now we lose our perfect daughters one by one.
Each sordid story soils our whole society.
I knew someone had seen just her sex –
not my Persephone.
I thought of Helios and how that day
he couldn’t look me in the eye.
Hecate agreed to wait a while.
She hung low in the sky as the sun rose,
a perfect orb of white against the palest blue.
Stuck between the two of us, he could not hide.
Still he tried, covered his eyes with cumulus,
wrapped himself in thunder clouds –
their rumbling did not frighten me.
He swore he hadn’t lied.
I knew he hadn’t told the truth.
Such equivocation is deception by another name.
And so Erinys I became. Furious, I pulled back
the clouds he tried to hide behind, threw off my veil,
my golden hair the perfect match for his bright gaze.
He shied away, tried to ride on,
but I caught hold of his reins and the sun stopped.
‘Tell me Helios. Where is my child?’
I could hear Zeus pause,
sense Poseidon in his seven seas,
feel Hades lurking like some guilty child.
The earth wobbled to a halt,
people hid their heads in fear,
birds from each and every tree
flew alarmed into the air. But I did not care.
I would not be reconciled with more false words.
And so I learned that Hades had emerged
from deep within the underworld
and carried off my perfect girl.
Those boys, always a conspiracy of silence,
a tacit understanding that things will go their way.
I looked at Zeus, her father, and saw he was not bothered.
Why should he be? It wasn’t he who’d nurtured her.
Once more I asked for her return.
They all stood there, grey-suited, smiling smugly,
their judgement passed already behind closed doors.
I knew then what I had to do.
I would withdraw my labour; exercise that simple right.
In the story of the Snow Queen,
no one asks what shard of ice grew in her heart.
So this is what I now decreed,
‘As long as you keep my daughter from me,
so shall I keep the seed underground,
nothing in this world will grow.’
At first no one cared. I didn’t mind.
Time was on my side. I was used to being ignored.
For weeks, the trees flared a vivid warning.
It went unheeded. Exhausted,
they dropped their leaves to the ground.
Frantic birds ate what they could find,
squirrels hoarded nuts, but mankind
just carried on as they’d carried on before.
And then the food ran out.
Across the land came scenes of malnutrition
like those seen at a distance on the television,
coupled with a dreadful cold.
Hades, in the business of death,
needed to take on more staff,
his turnover increased exponentially.
He had no time for my Persephone.
Witch II
Me they would have hung,
led me up the stairs
to the trapdoor and the rope,
watched with eager eyes
as my neck snapped.

Me they would have pricked
to see if I could bleed,
searched for marks of concourse
with the devil,
marks left upon my skin
at birth, the proof of sin.

Me they would have swum,
thrown into the local pond
while all the village gathered round
to see if I would drown,
and if I did, perhaps one or two
would say, as final bubbles
broke the surface, that really
I was not that bad.

Or if I managed to survive,
take me sopping to a local tree
and string me up  –
sure now of my witchery.

Me they would have burned,
piled the green sticks in a pyre
to make the fire burn longer
and tied me to the stake,
told their daughters to look at me,
at how I scream and how I beg,
despite my hatred of them all,
told their daughters to look at me,
and learn from my mistakes.
Witch III
They threw me in. I held my tongue,
would give none of them the satisfaction,
felt the cold burn into me and the dank
slime of the pond, its putrefaction
a forewarning of the grave to come.
I let the water close above my head,
heard their jeering cease and let myself
sink down, my skirts a swirl of storm-tossed
leaves. I never thought the pond so deep.
Light lessened, vanished and the dark was
quiet. I let myself sink down, down,
came to rest among the silt and mud.
Down here was pillow soft.
I waited, breathed through gills
that had appeared. Two toads I knew
approached like cats, one to sit upon my lap,
one to stand guard and watch.
Far, far above, the sunlight was a distant
dream, of flower-filled meadows, human
cruelty. Night fell. The blacky depths
were velvet on my skin. It was time.
I stirred myself, floated up and broke
the surface, felt again the burning cold.
The air was strange to breathe.
Houses round about the pond
were shuttered tight. A few lights
burned but others had gone early
to bed that night, to put an end
to the day, for people do not always
say what they think when there’s a crowd
and this can gnaw away at them.
They only have themselves to blame.
I found the shallows, stood on firm ground
and dogs began to bark with fear.
To anyone who expresses outrage,
who wants to know why so and so
did such and such, how could they,
what were they thinking of, I say,
you haven’t understood. It’s easy.
They were beyond thinking.
They’d reached the point
where they thought nothing.
Instead of grinding over hurt and anger,
rehearsing conversations in his head,
plotting revenge, wishing things
could change, he’d taken the gun
and, without thought, pulled the trigger,
letting consequences take care of themselves.
She’d written the note, swallowed the pills
with a What the hell, not connecting each
of these actions with any genuine farewell.
That mother holding her daughter’s head
under water is not thinking of how hard the years
have been and how they stretch ahead,
she’s not registering her daughter’s
struggle, thinks of nothing other than
the bubbles, stays there, in just that place,
till they stop rising to the surface.
It takes more thought, effort, consideration
to keep the wheel in the middle of the road,
than to see the bend ahead and just let go.
from The Instinct Against Death (Pindrop Press, 2012).
Order The Instinct Against Death here, here or here.