Girl on Fire

“We reach her as, of course, as we meet all poetic resources blocked from us by mindless packaging and spiritless scholarship” (Adrienne Rich, 1993, p. 101).

I write this the weekend before my 37th birthday. My Ph.D was a fluke. I had 6 hours to write my proposal after seeing the scholarship advert the day of the deadline. I was accepted and I am very grateful that my supervisors gave me the freedom to follow my own path.

I thrive with freedom, using my initiative and being creative. Various Dx have been part of my journey, the most recent being Dyslexia in October 2020. Dyslexia is not a problem, the world tells us it is a problem. We see the world through a different lens and have an incredible capability to see the big picture, problem-solve and devise complex strategies.

I am never going to be the best at form-filling. But if you want ideas and if you want lived experience, I am definitely your woman.

I have recently re-read my thesis as I am pulling bits out for current writing projects. It may be full of typos, but I had no idea how good some of it is. I did not realise the extent of what I was doing at the time.

Using Feminist Standpoint Theory and the poetry of strong women, my Ph.D set to disrupt how we understand ‘knowing’ and was a direct rejection of the academic hierarchy of knowledge.

I have written poetry since I was 6 years old. The infamous Liverpool poet Levi Tafari came to my deprived primary school and convinced us we could be writers. Growing up on benefits in a violent household blighted by alcoholism, being a ‘writer’ was a strange distant idea.

Words have offered me great respite throughout my life. As I say in my thesis and on my blog, “We bleed in words. It is is where we are most vulnerable”.

I have written about the phenomenology of anger, and the importance of women’s anger in writing. We must unapologetically and continually write as our authentic selves and take us space.

Our lives depend on it. Writing is rupture.

Stand your ground. Those preaching about class and feminism are often the ones to discredit the voices and work of strong working class women. We do not fit their neat ideas of class and gender struggle. They seek to police and regulate the boundaries of good middle-class womanhood.

I do not want to produce spiritless scholarship and sanitized knowledge. I write and speak to provoke, to rupture, to question, to bask in the space of discomfort. My work is not in spite of my messy, chaotic, traumatic journey. It is because of it. My knowledge is produced from that site. I carry no shame from it.

My impact will be measured by how many others I pull up behind me. I am not an insecure gatekeeper. I long for change and a radically (re)imagined academy. Cite working-class women. Create trauma-informed practice and spaces. Platform the excluded. Have a genuine commitment to widening participation. Propose more visual and arts-based journals and books. Every time you try and shut us out we rise. We are on fire for this.

We have walked through fire. We have been to places that would break you. We live with conditions that you could not tolerate for a day. So believe me when I say that we will not be stopping here.

Poetry allows us to scatter words like marbles underfoot. We spit syllables. Through this we rise every single time.

Gemma x