Other Women's Kitchens, Alison Binney
'Heart-wrenching, succinct, lyrically musical, with a deeply personal theme, these poems won me over for their honesty and for educating me in this very particular politics of difference. There is deft wit, subtle erotics and an arrow-sharp ability to pin down political messages' AMY WACK, POETRY EDITOR, SEREN BOOKS
Selected poem from the winning pamphlet
How we knew
I think when you mentioned you’d chosen the wine
because you liked the picture on the bottle,
while I was setting the oven gloves on fire
and trying to pretend I hadn’t. And when
you admitted you’d flirted from your end
of the tennis court the whole summer,
and I confessed I was too short-sighted to see.
The individual chocolate mousses clinched it.
Then you knew and I knew and the evening
stretched before us, the air fat with so much
knowing it hurt to breathe, and I didn’t know
what to do, and neither did you, until, somehow,
we did: hands, lips, skin, my single bed
rocking with laughter, long after dark.
How I did it
I entered the pamphlet for five other competitions – two judged by Amy Wack! I nearly didn’t try again, but then I read that she said rewriting poems, or changing the list or reordering the sequence can make all the difference. So that’s what I did.
I started writing seriously when I took my students on a Arvon course in 2001, led by Jackie Kay and Julia Darling, which led to my first ever publication in Mslexia three years later. Then I lost momentum because my teaching job was so demanding and my mother was ill. Also my subject matter was limited by the fact that I hadn’t come out completely as a lesbian, so there was a major part of my life that I couldn’t write about.
Then in 2016 I had major surgery and a friend gave me Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. In it she says that you are everything that has ever happened to you, and urges you to ‘tell your stories’. I felt such a sense of liberation reading that book. So I started writing again.
So much had happened in the meantime. Section 28 was repealed in 2003 and civil partnerships became legal in 2006. My mother and my grandmother had died. I was 15 years older and more confident generally. Then in 2017 I attended a protest at the Church of England Synod where they were debating gay marriage. I was holding a placard that read ‘Proud to be gay and proud to be Christian’ – and ended up on the BBC News. So suddenly everyone knew. It meant I could start writing about what was important to me.
I had about 30 ‘coming out’ poems – I’ve also been writing about bird life, and the pandemic of course – that chronicled a transition from embarrassment and struggle to openness and happiness.
ALISON BINNEY teaches English in secondary school and trains English teachers studying for the PGCE. She has been widely published, including in Magma, Butcher’s Dog and Popshot.
Available to buy now at www.serenbooks.com priced £5 (+p&p). Claim 20 per cent off using discount code MSLEXIA20. ‘How we knew’ was originally published in Fenland Poetry Journal.