Girl and Woman @Carregonnen

cross-posted from Carregonnen

orig. pub, 18.2.15

I wrote this poem five years ago. I have tried to edit it, to improve the language, to make it better but I can’t. I don’t know how else to say this in a more ‘good poetry’ way – so I have left it because at the moment it says what I want it to say. My mental health problems have been severe over my life and I have made some very poor behaviour and relationship choices. Like many other women, I think about what my life would have been like if I had not had a violent abusive father. If I had grown up with few problems and had fulfilled whatever potential I had. If I hadn’t been such a damaged teenager and had been able to stay on at school and go to University like my brothers eventually did. If I hadn’t been so desperate to get married and have children but had been able to wait till I was really ready. If I had been a mother who was not driven by anger and despair and fear but one who was able to give her children a more stable childhood without screaming rages that made them fearful of me and my responses and reactions. I have said before that the guilt I feel about the way I was as a young mother will stay with me forever – no matter how much insight into and understanding of the reasons why I was the way I was. I cannot do any more to fix this although I still try. I no longer have rages, they ended many years ago when I realised why I was so angry. Now I have fear and this immobilises me and creates feelings of despair and pointlessness. But I am still here and I have a good life and I do enjoy many parts of it – friends family lots of interests. There’s bits of me I quite like and many bits I do not like and actively scrutinise and judge far more harshly than anyone else could!

I am a girl
I am eleven years old
soon I will sit my Eleven Plus examination
and I will go to Grammar School
to not go to Grammar School
would be ‘unthinkable’ says my Father
My Mother is beautiful
I have a handsome Father
so he says.
I have two brothers
they are both younger than me
and I love them both

I am a woman
I am sixty three years old
I have three children and nine grandchildren
now I have only one brother and I love him
I have good friends
I have a job a house and a car
I enjoy most of my life
sometimes I go a bit crazy
then I take pills
this has been happening on and off
most of my life
I have friends who understand me
I have children who don’t
This is not their fault
This is my fault
But it is His fault in the first place
If I try to imagine a different girl who is eleven
If I try to imagine a different life
then I can’t imagine a different sixty three year old woman
I have no idea what she would be like
at least I know who I am
this sixty three year old woman
I know her crazy as she is
I am glad I have the children I have
I am glad I have the friends I have
But the life I have is difficult to live

February 2009


Carregonnen: I do life writing in poetry and prose about child abuse and mental health – politically I am a radical feminist. [@Carregonnen]

Dimensions by Shahidah Janjua

Written by  Philippa Willitts


Dimensions is a book of poetry and shorts by Pakistani writer and feminist activist, Shahidah Janjua. It takes the reader through aspects of the author’s life, with each poem and piece of prose both segmented and connected by recurring, colliding themes.

With evocative imagery of Lahore, Dimensions begins with reflections on Janjua’s early life. The smells, sights, sounds and rhythm of her childhood express both warm nostalgia and intense discomfort. Identifying the “sisterhood of servitude”, a place from which she chose “companions for the journeying way”, the author describes the cautious eye she had to keep on “the fathers wants, the brothers needs”. Already, her place as a girl in the world is painful. And, although I can sometimes find poetry to be impenetrable, these words are vibrant and distinct.

One section of the book is about Adam, Shahidah’s son whose death sent her spinning. I could barely breathe as I read the palpable agony of his passing and her grief.

My spirit lays down, its cheek pressed to the velvet grass.

Extracts from her diary talk directly to Adam. Pain, love, regret and memories mingle to create a narrative that is both uplifting and devastating. I found connections with my own experiences of loss, which no doubt contributed to how moving I found the writing, but Shahidah’s words went further than this. The pain of a mother who loses a child is said to be incomparable to any other grief and, through reading Dimensions a number of times, I sense that this is true.

Other parts of the book are, by contrast, light hearted and humorous. Laughing at the way we see the world and its contradictions is, at times, a welcome relief from the intense scrutiny of misogyny and oppression, although even these parts demonstrate the depth of the author’s awareness and intuition. We laugh because we recognise what we read.

Tales of Shahidah the wild child – an indication of the rebellious, misbehaving streak that remains, decades later – convey an optimism that abides despite her acutely perceptive insights into the problems facing the women of the world, from environmental destruction to beheadings to self-harm to rape. She does not shy away from discussing her uncle who raped her and the impossible choices she was forced to make. Righteous fury sings through Shahidah’s words.

Rights are for rapists

Freedom is for fuckers

Justice is for Judge Clarence

Punishment is for the poor.

Shahidah’s grandmother, with her “toothless smile and craggy face”, is a source of love and comfort, while walls and bars limit access to her father. Other women are a recurring theme in Shahidah’s words; their influence on her life, their meaning in her feminism. In Not Tangible Enough, she writes,

The reality of this me

Came from other women’s lives.

Their blood sweat words and brushstrokes

Wrung out on patterns across a page.

A powerful text about the powerful connections between women, the pain we live through and the injustices that surround us, Dimensions is a deeply feminist work that cuts through the fog and shines an uncompromising light on oppression. Shahidah Janjua’s writing takes readers from wistful longing to brutal pain and back in a single breath. Time and again, I allowed myself to relax into humour or enjoy a scene she so expertly conjures, before being whipped into the bleakness of her truths about the male gaze and misogyny.

The book is dedicated to Andrea Dworkin, who she credits as having taught her “plain speaking and truth telling”, and this book is certainly a powerful testament to that influence.

If Dworkin taught Shahidah Janjua to speak plainly and tell the truth, then she did so expertly. The author’s words are both beautiful and desolate, because the world she reflects is, too. This book is a work of beauty, a work of passionate feminism, and a work of truth; truth about women, our lives and our many complex realities.


The book is available by Geepy Publishing and Amazon Kindle


Philippa Willitts is a freelance writer and journalist who focuses on writing about rape culture and victim blaming, disability issues and tech. You can find her on Twitter @PhilippaWrites.

The Denounced by @CatEleven

(Cross-posted from One Woman’s Thoughts)

Sat in a pod
Or at a desk
A sofa
A lawn
Lying in bed
You scan with your code
And your algorithms of shame

Eyeballing for the sleights
The choice keywords
Juicy tidbits to wave under
The noses of your allies
The allegiances formed
Through shared experiences

And you frighten
Condemn and denounce
These keyboard “aggressors”
You are known to us
You scream
From a page backlit
And we are watching you

Looking at your language
Looking for your hate
Avoid these scum
You warn
While actively searching them out
These women
With voices

These questioning
Inquisitive women
These thinking
Reducing them to sound bites

Privileged and hated
For expressing opinions
For naming their oppression
For questioning
For speaking


One Woman’s Thoughts: I am a feminist and this is my blog; a collection of perspectives, poetry and ideas. [@CatEleven]