The contemporary woman poet is rarely heard and scarcely published, but always she writes, scribbling away because she must. Compiling the work of ten up-and-coming poets through flash fiction and poetry, My Baby Shot Me Down reflects on this art and draws out diverse, new ways of reading women and writing.
Jumping at the chance to be heard, these ten writers seek havoc, haplessly throwing their readers onto the disturbing forces of poetic retribution. Whether it is Ruth Starling and Katherine Black’s spectres of childhood abuse, Maggy van Eijk and Rachael Smart’s ubiquitous heartbreak or Alison Wassell and Laura Wilkinson’s anguished motherhood – these are stories that reveal all who are maimed by tender wounds of love and hate. Contrary to what we may think, women who try to escape such wounds are unflinchingly violent and battle with frightening animosity. In an attempt to heal through solidarity and poetry, their collective prose explodes into powerful, searing waves of honesty, washing over the senses.
However, there are moments too when this slips into comparatively amateurish mediocrity. Harriett Goodale’s poetic verse, for example, lugs itself through several titles and still comes out tediously dull when placed in the order of her subsequent peers. A turn of the page can call out these clashing aesthetics and sometimes My Baby Shot Me Down loses its weaker writers to the lack of artistic continuity.
Aside from this, the collection offers thoughts on women’s regionalism and class. Scattered across England and Wales, colloquialisms shoot up in the most unlikely local places and characters feel all too familiar. Writers who are of Dutch, Jamaican and Nigerian descent share their own perspective voice too, exploring broad, new intersections of a national culture in beautifully composed pieces like Maggy van Ejik’s Things you’d only tell your mother in a foreign language and Clarissa Angus’s Mr Brown. Class similarly comes into play in Claudine Lazar’s Madagascar and Laura Wilkinson’s Buried, both of which slice through British wealth disparity like a butcher’s knife. These themes are ambitious and certainly do not always deliver but somehow they still convey the broader strokes of contemporary feminist thought that are rarely given a second glance.
As such, the eloquence and forcefulness of this work allows the writer to route an escape in the carved out worded spaces of closure. Women may be victim, but they are not victimised. On this, Katherine Black aptly surmises in My Baby Shot Me Down’s fated, final lines:
We’d all suffered in our own way which formed a silent bond and made for an uncharacteristic defence of each other, surpassing creed, colour or class. I’d have done the same for any of them. And that is what I call an escape.
Whether or not My Baby Shot Me Down manages to work this out remains undecided. But for these ten women writers escape is not so far out of reach.