Dead [Women] Poets Society: Resurrecting women writers of the past
It’s no mystery that women have often been lost in the fabric of time, forgotten, their place taken up by men. In poetry too, women have often been neglected, but Dead [Women] Poets Society is on a mission to resurrect dead women poets lost in the passing of time.
Founded in 2015, and run by Helen Bowell and Jasmine Simms, Dead [Women] Poets Society is a live literature organisation aimed at connecting the women and non-binary writers of the present with their literary ancestors. They do so through live events, often in the style of séances [not a real seance], celebrating the often-forgotten literary heritage left behind by women. The format of their live (or in Covid times, online) séances usually includes a number of living women or non-binary writers resurrecting forgotten women poets which have influenced their writing. The open mic featured at the end of every event is open to anyone, as long as they follow the simple rule of resurrection: for each poem of your own, you must also read one written by a dead woman poet.
The work of the Dead [Women] Poets Society raises a simple question of what it means to be alive. Is it being here and now, in a living, breathing body? Or is there more to being alive than life itself? The forgotten poets which the Society aims to resurrect through its séances might be gone, but separating their work from their physical being means they are able to live on through their writing. Their spirit persists and continues to inspire new generations of writers. Death then, it seems, has more to do with memory than actually departing from this world. What is more, by resurrecting the rich heritage of dead women poets, a light is shone on the incredible women and non-binary writers still alive and writing today. By highlighting the work of contemporary writers, the Society ingeniously gives a voice to those who can no longer speak, and simultaneously ensures the voice of those still with us isn’t overlooked.
The Society usually travels across the UK to host their live events, visiting the likes of Durham Book Festival and The Poetry Café in London, although the seances have moved online since the pandemic began. I had the privilege of attending their [Not] in Newcastle online séance a few weeks ago, on the 11th April. The event was joined by poet Hannah Hodgson resurrecting north-east native Julia Darling, and Momtaza Mehri bringing to life the work of German poet and activist May Optiz. Hodgson and Mehri complemented their chosen dead women poets with their own work, showcasing how the relevance of the past inspires the present. Despite its online format, the event was moving and empowering, and left me with a sense of serene contemplation on what makes one persist over time.
The world around us is fast and ever-changing, but Dead [Women] Poets Society are making sure the women writers of today aren’t lost in the passing of time as some of their great-great-grandmothers have been. Resurrecting those often-overlooked shines light on the ultimate truth pursued by Dead [Women] Poets Society. As Hannah Hodgson perfectly captured it in her séance resurrection: people are only alive as long as we animate them.
Attend the next Dead [Women] Poets Society online séance [Not] in Oxford on the 2nd June. To find out more visit Dead [Women] Poets Society new website here.
Words by Stella Baricic
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