Today I have Ana Sampson on my blog and we are talking about She Is Fierce. A collection of Poems and this is a book you will not want to miss!
1-Hi Ana, can you tell me about She is Fierce.
Hi - thank you for asking! I got the idea for She Is Fierce because, one afternoon, I started looking for an anthology of poems by women. I found lots of quite specialised books - Japanese Women Poets, or Women's War Poetry, for example - but nothing that covered a wide span of different times, and included a real range of voices. I had previously edited five poetry anthologies (including I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud and Other Poems You Half-Remember from School and Poems to Learn by Heart), so I thought it was about time I filled this gap and set out to collect women's poems from the ancient world to today. Although some of the poets are very well known - like Victorian superstar Elizabeth Barratt Browning and recent Laureate Carol Ann Duffy - many of them were new to me and will, I hope, be new to readers too. Among them are a tragic suffragette who committed suicide after being imprisoned, Virginia Woolf’s aristocratic lover, civil rights activists, Jewish writers who fled the Nazis, schoolgirls, freed slaves, a thirteenth century visionary, a renowned scientist, spoken word superstars, California’s first black attorney general and an eighteenth century kitchen maid. The poems are divided into themes including friendship, roots and growing up, and protest, courage and resistance so I hope there will be something for everyone, in every mood.
2-This collection is made up of 150 poems. Are there any that you just really adored?
Yes! I mean, all of them to be honest! I read hundreds - I suspect thousands - of poems and had to whittle down a very long longlist to get the collection down to a size that could actually fit in a book. So absolutely everything that has made the cut is something that really spoke to me, and I hope will speak to readers too. A few poems that I really adore include: Jackie Kay's Fiere - a rollicking hymn to a lifelong friendship, Frances Cornford's Ode on the Whole Duty of Parents - which rings true as a mother of small children, Hera Lindsay Bird's Love Comes Back - inventive, funny and touching, Victoria Gatehouse's tender and evocative Phosphorescence, Mary Oliver's Breakage - which brings the beach into the room, Katie Byford's stunning Not Andromeda, and Pauli Murray's gorgeous, defiant Ruth. I probably have to stop now or I'll just list everything in the book!
3-What was it like getting all these poems for this collection?
It was the best job in the world if you didn't mind a lot of crying. I am a real poetry crybaby, and there were some wonderful days when I read poetry all day and found myself very emotional by mid-afternoon! I loved discovering new poets, and finding new books to dip into. (I have to confess that things did get quite chaotic until I invested in some new bookshelves...) I felt a huge responsibility to present a range of poems from different times and perspectives, and it was frustrating when some poems I adored couldn't be included because they were too similar to something else, or didn't fit with the selection. I also researched all the poets included in the book to write little biographies which appear at the back and I found that fascinating and inspiring. Many of these poets were writing at times when women's work was ignored, patronised or even condemned - at times it was considered truly shocking for a woman to dare to write for publication. Many battled physical and mental illness, and political, social and financial constraints to produce this work, and some of them have been largely forgotten. There are some amazing writers in the book. Laura Gray was a young suffragette who never recovered from imprisonment and eventually overdosed. Vittoria Colonna defied the Pope to retain her independence and had Michelangelo grieving at her deathbed. Rebecca Elson was a distinguished astronomer who climbed mountains in her spare time. Frances W Harper helped slaves flee to Canada from America via the Underground Railroad. Winifred Holtby was a pioneering journalist who defined 'mansplaining' seventy years ago. It has been a privilege as well as pleasure to discover them myself, and hopefully bring them to new readers in the process.