A Journey With The Girls Made Me A Woman Of Words (In Memory Of Agnes Owens)

Hey everyone. The recent death of the writer Agnes Owens has left me reflecting on how best to pay tribute to both the women and her work. Initially this puzzled me but I have now decided that my tribute to this excellent writer will offer a slightly different perspective from others in the sense that I will look how Agnes Owens and other female writers have influenced my own writing journey. As a champion of both women writers and greater equality I think she may have appreciated that.

At this time there will I suspect be many scholars who will be better versed in the works of Agnes Owens who will pay both and her writing a far better tribute than I can offer. However I thought I would make my contribution by the looking at the powerful female voices within the Scottish and British writing community have influenced me and helped to develop my writing. Voices Agnes Owens would I’m sure be very proud of and I’ll start with Agnes herself. After all it was her death which inspired this post.

A woman with a fierce intellect and a natural gift for story telling. Agnes Owens was the author of many novels and short story collections. She was also an accomplished writing tutor and reader of her work. It was as a regular reader at the Scotia Bar and Clutha Vaults that I came in to contact with her and I found her to be engaging performer and a woman of warmth wit and wisdom who would when requested give words of encouragement to writers at the start of our creative journeys.

This is I feel a very important point to make as I believe that to a significant extent women’s writing is even now undervalued and this reflects the patriarchal dominance which still exists in Scotland/ Britain 2014.

One of the first writers to have an influence on me was Paisley poet Margaret Fulton Cook. A powerful passionate poet. Margaret tutored me when I was a member of a Second Chance to Learn group and beginning to get to the stage of taking my writing seriously. It was Margaret Fulton Cook who introduced me to the work of Agnes Owens, Margaret Thomson Davis and many other writers often with strong working class voices. It was during this period I read Edwin Morgan’s poem Glasgow Green a poem in which Morgan describes what it is like to be gay at the time when homosexuality was a still a crime in Scotland. This poem more than any other had a significant impact for me as a transsexual woman who was struggling to come to terms with my own gender identity issues. Margaret’s own poetry particularly that written on the theme of domestic violence remains amongst the most powerful I have ever read or indeed heard.

Another woman whose support was important during my early years as a poet was Govan Writers Group tutor Linda McCann. From March 1992 to September 1995 I attended my first ever writers group and Linda taught me to be more daring in my writing even with stuff I may not have wanted to share at that particular moment as it may contain material that I would wish to use at a later date. During this time Linda became a valued friend and I felt comfortable enough with her to be able to share my most intimate secret and told her about my transsexual status. To say was supportive would be understatement, and I couldn’t believe my luck when Linda decided to give me a stunning red tafatta dress she no longer had any use for. Honestly it was gorgeous and the first time I tried it on I felt like a supermodel. I actually cried the day I knew I would no longer fit me, yes that’s how glamorous it really was. As for my writing it is safe to say that I flourished under Linda’s guidance and remain grateful for it to this day as she gave me the confidence to tackle issues I tried to shy away from.

The next women of influence is the women without whom there would be no Words And Music the one and only Pamela Duncan. Not for nothing is Pamela known as the first lady of Sammy Dow’s, she is as she has always been a women of intelligence and talent who is equally at home in writing both poetry and prose and has won many prizes at both.

When I started on the spoken word scene it was a very male dominated place but there was shining light who blazed the trail for women poets I refer to the former compare of Sunday Rhymes and all round genius that is Viv Gee. Viv not only assisted me with my performance techniques she also gave me the time, space, and encouragement to be myself and to express myself in my writing even if this may have initially meant taking a few risks. This was fantastic advice and I follow it to this day.

Someone else who taught me more than she will ever know is the excellent Magi Gibson whose poem Wild Women Of A Certain Age inspires us girls to think that far from writing ourselves when we reach a certain milestone we should embrace the fact we achieved it. Also, her poem No Angel in which she correctly attacks the chauvinistic stupidity of an outdated judge who said that a nine year girl was asking to be raped because of the provocative clothes she was wearing at the time of incident has to be one of the most powerful ever written on this topic. Now though everyone in their right mind condemned this joke of a judge what made her contribution stand out was the fact that Maggie Gibson articulated the views of an outraged nation and in doing so wrote a poem which by the way it expresses her justified rage on this matter will last way beyond her lifetime and deserves to be taught in schools to illustrate why feminism is necessary if we are ever to achieve real equality for women.
Another star from this scene is the wonderful Jenny Lindsay. Jenny is my opinion one of the talented poets in Scotland,and I believe her work like that of our current makar Liz Lochhead will not only span the generations but will be a golden legacy in our nation’s poetic inheritance. This is a woman who like Viv Gee is equally at home using humour or adopting a more serious tone. I make no apology for the fact that I am a big fan of Jenny’s work. In poems like Arrogance Makes You Bed In Bed and The Nasties Are Out Tonight this outstanding poet tackles some of the challenging young women today such as male attitudes to women and women’s personal safety concerns when the drunks come to call in any city centre. However, Jenny is at her best when she shows her concern for the plight of others and In Jumper on the Bridge she tackles the very delicate topic of suicide with the sensitivity it deserves.

Another force of nature in the world of spoken word is the quite magical Sophia Walker. London born with an American accent gained as she spent her formative years in Washington DC Sophia though now based in the city of her birth was a regular on the Scottish spoken word scene when she called Edinburgh and believe me this women is a real talent in fact I would go as far as to call her a genius. Sophia has a chatty yet engaging style of delivery and is well known for her courage and principals in tackling issues that other people may shy away from. This is particularly evident in poems like Dad I’ve Got Something To Tell You in which she comes out bisexual. It is way shows the issue she faces and her concerns about telling her father which really strikes home
when you hear her read it out.

My next poet offers a complete contrast to Sophia’s edgy and gutsy style but that does not make the work or more especially the influence of Ann Connolly any less important in my poetic journey. In many ways like both Linda and Viv underestimates the contribution she has had in making me more confident not only as a performer but also as a writer. The Current Makar of the Federation Of Writers Scotland, Ann has been a consistent source of encouragement throughout the time I’ve known her and as every poet knows encouragement is the nourishment by which our seeds of creativity will blossom and grow and our poetry develop to become the best we can be.

For my next stop on this journey It’s time to cross the border to Newcastle and celebrate the poetry of a Geordie lass and a friendship made in Edinburgh. The lass in question is the wonderful Sophia Blackwell. This modern day wonder woman writes the kind of poetry which has a presence on both the stage and the page. Indeed the multi-talented Sophia is also an excellent singer and an accomplished novelist, she is also a valued friend who is cherished more than she will ever know. In her poem The
Wilderness Years writes about a difficult conversation with her granny and explains though sometimes even good girls need adventures and those adventures once enjoyed must never be regretted.

As I head back to Edinburgh I find it impossible not to mention Katherine McMahon. It is Katherine’s poem Pride which I consider to be my favourite LGBTI poem of all time as it says just enough to make the point it needs to without divulging too many secrets. Well I don’t like to blush when I’m reading poetry but I don’t mind beaming and Katherine has me beaming with pride every time I read her work or see her perform.

Now as the poetry train approaches Glasgow I can’t possibly finish this post without mentioning the first poet I could really relate to our national makar Liz Lochhead. It was Liz’s poems in which I saw my Glasgow, the Glasgow of strong, intelligent women, the Glasgow which in many ways moulded me in to the woman I would aspire to be and one day become and in The Life Of Mrs Reilly I swear I saw my mother and sometimes just sometimes I realise as a woman of my time I see that as of woman of her time she wasn’t so bad after all and every day I somehow seem to remember more of the lessons she taught me. I am sure Agnes Owens would have appreciated that. I am also sure she would have appreciated that a journey with the girls made me a woman of words.

Love And Best Wishes
Gayle X

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