We the women

d'Lëtzebuerger Land vom 13.12.2019

High Five is a collection of poetry, drama and short prose by five women writers. Four of them are based in Luxembourg, whereas one lives in Scotland but has a Luxembourgish mother. The latest publication by Black Fountain Press takes you straight back to Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. Published in 1929, this iconic pamphlet discusses the problems women writers have been facing throughout history. In Woolf’s own words: ‘This is an important book, the critic assumes, because it deals with war. This is an insignificant book because it deals with the feelings of women in a drawing-room. A scene in a battlefield is more important than a scene in a shop – everywhere and much more subtly the difference of value persists.’

Fortunately, we have moved on from such clear-cut value judgements! And, what’s more, women are no longer stuck in drawing-rooms. In fact, you might argue that there is a symbolic note to this collection since it comes a hundred years after Luxembourg women were given the vote.

It opens with stark bollock naked, a monologue by Larisa Faber, whom many will know as an actress. Born in Romania, she was raised here and then trained at Drama Centre, London. This is her second play. In 2018 Disko Dementia, which is about elderly patients in a care home, premiered at Banannefabrik. Breaking taboos seems to be at the heart of Faber’s work! What she did for dementia patients then, she now does for women in their thirties who hear their biological clock ticking away with ever greater insistence.

Are you actually given a choice about motherhood? Will you let others push you to the limit? The pressures coming at you from society at large seem to unite in order to make you do what everyone believes is the right thing. Abortion might be available by law, but gynaecologists are unsympathetic and even borderline bullying. Urgent and restless, this is a piece well worth delving into.

Next is Journeys, a series of poems by Fabienne Faust. Looking beyond the ready-made, these texts are in a category of their own and by far the most challenging pages in the collection. Both the textures and the meaning of words are foregrounded. The imagery is often cryptic, yet also intriguing and eerily beautiful. As a result, there are plenty of lines to unpick and savour.

Joanna Easter’s Driving Through My Home Town At Night does exactly what the title suggests, but it also unearths painful memories, which explains why the narrator has not been back for years. The short story is carefully built up towards a moment of painful revelation. It centres on a memory that keeps haunting and probably defining the survivor’s life.

In Wendy Winn’s thicker than water memory also looms large as the speaker deals with both maternal feelings and filial struggles. Some of the poems dwell on the pain and uncertainty of illness, on the states of knowing and unknowing associated with Alzheimer’s. Though moving, Winn’s poetry veers towards the sentimental at times, which is when it invariably loses its momentum.

And finally, there is Cecile Somers’s Dr Alzheimer’s Jukebox or The Randomness of Forgotten Thoughts, a series of poems written in a cool vernacular, a blend of honesty and mischief. They deal with break-up and loss, with the art of writing as well as with overhearing conversations on a train. It is also the very first time I see Boris Johnson pop up in a poem!

Ultimately, High Five is a collection that will take you in and out of very different moods and atmospheres. The five voices go off in all sorts of directions, taking you on journeys through time and moments of crisis.

High Five, Black Fountain Press, 17 Euro.

Janine Goedert
© 2023 d’Lëtzebuerger Land