Women of Steel #NationalPoetryDay

women-of-steel-sheffield-full-length

It was great to talk to Toby this morning on BBC Radio Sheffield‘s breakfast show about my new poem, Women of Steel, commissioned for National Poetry Day.

In a new project from BBC Local Radio, the Forward Arts Foundation, and Apples and Snakes, the 40 stations of BBC local radio are marking National Poetry Day by each broadcasting a poem commissioned from 40 #BBCLocalPoets.

The poem is inspired by the new Women of Steel statue that was put up in Barker’s Pool in Sheffield in the summer. The statue commemorates the work that women did in the war, particularly in the munitions factories, which has only recently begun to be properly recognised. My poem is inspired by the work of these women, by recovering histories and by telling stories that we often don’t hear.

My poem also aims to pay tribute to the amazing strength of communities in Sheffield today, and the challenges that women continue to face. Sheffield is such an amazing place with amazing people, and I hope to capture a bit of that. It’s also a poem about the long history of women’s work and powerful women in the region, which has been edited out  by patriarchy – linking the Goddess stories of the Don – Goddess Danu – all the way back to the way that women’s labour continues to go unrecognised today. It’s about celebrating our diversity and solidarity, creating sisterhood and remembering the work and stories of women.

women-of-steel-close-up

Women of Steel

 

We are sisters who clank through the streets

on rustless feet and chain linked arms

the deep pull of ore in our loins –

calls of ancestors deep in the rocks of yolk and plum and rust.

I polish her toes til they shine –

she deserves this at least and I know that she’d polish mine.

.

We are women of steel

women who do what we feel

women who do what we can

women who cry, women who rise

women at the heart of this town.

.

My nipples leak steel milk

and she keeps holding me up.

.

We are women who labour and birth

women who work, women who juggle

dark peaks and light, women who do what we can

when Cleethorpes’s too dear there’s the beach in town

the patch of sand that scratches our palms

sisters of steel squatting down.

.

I wipe orange streams from her cheeks

and keep holding her up.

.

We are women of steel

of hijabs and braids, of curly and straight

of blond hair and white

women who run, women who ride

women who lathe and grind

without gloves, we are women of three kids and twins on the way

and just a bit of peace

 

just a bit of peace please

.

She wipes crystal dust from my nails

and keeps holding me up.

.

We are women of hills

of limestone and grit

of ups and downs

of you can do it duck

we’ll get through it

we are women who nobody knows

guilt plated girls with lacquered legs

women of glad rags

of red crags, of sneaking bags back

from the foodbank

we are women of steel

.

I grip her shoulder

and keep holding her up.

 

.

women who do what we feel

women who do what we can

women who cry, women who rise

women at the heart of this town.

 

(Copyright, Rachel Bower)

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