the eighteen poems in this chapbook by n. hanna are lyrical, feisty and often raw. the poet engages with the topic of violence against women, their rape and murder through poems addressed to Shakespeare’s skull in reaction to the “violence towards his female characters and women’s process through the legal system.” I would like to hear the poem “only,” a list of things that do not mean a woman consents, read aloud in a loud voice by a group of women on a stage, in the streets: “silence is not a yes.” with space at the bottom for readers to add their own.
n. hanna shows her love of language with images such as “wet fears and blue delights --/an analytical organ” in “william shakespeare’s missing skull (and other proofs in the negative)."
there’s an urgency to these poems, dreams of missing women and air raid sirens in “waking up,” for example. some fine and witty turns on old clichés: “what’s good for the gander/is slander for the genuine” in “truce.”
the poems are compassionate renderings about and for women who’ve been brutalized and murdered, to the victims of that CBC radio host whose name I would like never to speak again. to women who are pressured to shave legs and cunts while men have “pit hair & shaggy crotches” (truce), to women who are earning less than men (wage gap).
there are powerful poems either written in the voices of Shakespeare’s characters or addressed to them: “these assholes/fighting over my grave-bound body/as i lay here/pretending not to breathe” (ophelia’s rue).
there’s nothing heavy-handed about these poems that quietly demand justice. there’s a fine sensibility to the work, wrought by a poet who listens and looks carefully at her environment, at literature, popular culture and history, and into her own psyche.
the long poem “evidence” is a strong and effective piece that centres around the Ghomeshi verdict, but also brings in Portia and Balthazar from the Merchant of Vince and speaks of the trial of Bradley Barton for the murder of Cindy Gladue. yes, these poems will make you cry. “i can’t look/pressed all sides by fear as/the vagina of saint gladue/is excised and displayed/in the owl-eyed juridic mecca.”
I love the defiance and quiet strength of these poems: “simply, I do not care/what you are wearing, sisters/come out of your houses/and be in the streets” … “bring your whisky/and the face that gets things done -- / let’s have your stories” (wards against disasters).
“Cutting Up” is published in a limited run of 50 and available through battleaxe press by contacting the author. Buy a copy for your parents, your lovers, your children, your friends. We all need to read these poems right now.
Note also the call for submissions for “the bird, philomela,": “focussing on women’s interpretations and opinions of assault and sexual assault.” deadline – May 11, 2016.