Hey everyone. On Wednesday night as I made my way to my first event of Edinburgh 2015 I thought it was time for a book review to get me in the mood for all the top quality spoken word poetry show I’ll be witnessing in the next couple of weeks. The book of choice of is the enticingly titled In To Temptation by the genial force of nature that is Sophia Blackwell. To say Sophia is one of my favourite spoken word poets would I think be a wee bit of an understatement and the fact she is taking a year out from the chaos of Edinburgh in August is a big loss to both the spoken word scene and my social diary. I say this not only because I would have been certain to attend her show but also because I value her company as a woman and most importantly as a friend.
So it is with this in mind I thought there was no better time to review one of my favourite poetry collections. From first page to last Into Temptation is a collection filled with red raw passion, thought provoking imagery and poems which just scream read me. This is a quality poet of the very highest calibre and once you’ve read her work you want to read more or better still go and see her live as she electrifies audiences by bringing her to life. In The Monster In Me, the opening poem of this enthralling collection, Sophia illustrates how even what you may believe to be the hardest of hearts are vulnerable to the all embracing and all consuming passion which is love. The fact that she did this with such a beautiful line as ‘something in your uncertain kiss unarmed the monster in me shows the gentle sensitivity which makes me so proud to call this poet a friend.
In her next poem Gifts. Sophia celebrates the ordinary things which sustain relationships and bring contented love. In the opening line of the first stanza of this poem, the poet sets out her stall by stating ‘ I do not need the priest, the flowers, the blessing. By doing this she is saying she does not need big occasions to be happy what she prefers is the certainty of celebrated commitment I also love the fourth stanza for its rebellious imagery of her body being an anarchist. This is Sophia expressing that fearless streak she has and I hope will always I have the streak that says I yield to nobody. Finally in this poem I think there is a powerful beauty in the penultimate stanza which expresses how the best relationships should work as she says ‘You give me joy. You make my life a line that works much better in your own translation. This wild abundance when our words combine’.
In Wrestling The Angel Sophia writes openly and honestly about the issues facing women and girls which are due to the societal pressures we have to endure because of social and cultural conditioning. In this poem the angel is the metaphor for that society a society which I have to say hasn’t moved on anywhere near as much as it thinks. In the third stanza Sophia really hits the mark when she accuses the angel of tampering with her creativity with these damming but accurate words. ‘She gets between my pen and hungry pages. She tells me leave the big things to the men. It is disturbing that these sentences still resonate so freely in 2015 but believe me they do and I speak from direct personal experience. As a transsexual woman and a campaigner for equality I note the challenges I face as a woman are different from those I faced before I transitioned. The discrimination is more subtle than many people think but it is there. For example this blogger who could be described as a feisty female Celtic fan was told one night that football was man talk and I should stick to baking and ballet. Now I have to say that such was my confusion at the time that I didn’t know whether happy because I was been treated as a woman or outraged at the discrimination we faced. In the end I went for outraged as I thought this kind of sexism was on the road to dying out and I was angry not only at the fact I was wrong but at the fact that not enough being done to eradicate these damaging stereotypes for Scottish, British, or indeed Global society. I am proud of Sophia Blackwell every time I read this poem because it tackles this injustice by going straight for the throat and believe me this gifted wordsmith knows that women’s voices matter and deserve equal respect to those of our male colleagues and friends. However, she also is also aware that sometimes if you want your point heard you can’t afford to miss the target. It is my belief that this poem should be on the recommended reading list for every school in Britain as it would empower girls and educate boys about social and cultural conditioning.
The same should also apply to her poem Mad. In this poem Sophia shows what could be described as her angry side however one has to remember that anger when justified as is when its expressed in the case against prejudice and discrimination is a very powerful emotion and our poet is fully justified in expressing her anger against female oppression. In her opening line the bold Sophia states ‘When I was five years old my mother taught me how to scream’ This line set the tone for a brilliant polemic against patriarchal society and the ingrained attitudes which holds it together. In final line of that initial stanza she shows her anger at being dismissed as ‘just a girl’. It is theme which runs through the poem of a woman who still sees discrimination and knows the need for feminism. This poem speaks with clarity of the dangers woman face in the darkness of the night. I particularly identify with the lines at the beginning of the third stanza ‘So this is for the women who’ve been walking after dark when your steps get louder and your breath draws in’. These lines shows a vulnerability that all women know all too clearly and I can speak from personal knowledge of facing these situations and the reality that I have been one of these women. I also like the idea that there is always one guy in every crowd of drunks who says ‘I’m sorry for my friends mate I’m sorry for my friends’ because believe me I’ve heard that well used line just a bit too often for my liking but Sophia has her reasons as to why people might be mad ‘They’re mad because their hungry and they’ll never eat their new fill’. They’re mad because their angry and they’re told to take a pill They’re mad because he won’t come home they’re mad because he will They’re mad because their screaming but inside where it can kill’.
In her next poem The Wilderness Years Sophia tells her granny that life is for living, loving, and having fun not as she puts so gently ‘toeing the family line’. She embraces what she refers as her wilderness years in which drunken dialling, savage hangovers and Primark all play a part. This poem challenges conventions and the established order and I really like the lines ‘when I see a young girl I just want to her to not watch the dance from the wallflower’s corner’ This is a very important message for the girls who are the daughters of the girls who danced to girls just wanna have to fun to get out there and have some’. This poem also contains my favourite lines in any poem when our poet who knows that her granny struggles as most grannies do with their grand daughter’s lesbianism tries to calm her gran’s fears when she says ‘Please Granny don’t panic I’m just a bit manic, I don’t really want to be sane. Overall though this is a poem about regrets and making sure you don’t have any and that’s why I like it as much as I do.
In Unless There’s Dancing Sophia yet again shows the rebellious nature I love by laying down her personal manifesto in terms so clear I could see them if I moved to Venus even challenging St Peter to provide room for individuals in that great celestial space known as heaven by saying that unless there’s dancing she’s ‘going to choose fires over heavenly choirs’. Now if that’s not a warning for heaven’s doorman to get his act in gear then I don’t know what is.
Another poem I really love in a collection which is to be honest jam packed full of them is the very lyrical and heartfelt One Song. This poem narrates the story of a woman at a karaoke night. A woman who apologises for gracing the stage in a way no man ever has to. This information is given to us in the first verse where we are invited to empathise with the singer as the men stay on stage for as long as they think they must. In contrast our heroine only gets one song but Sophia Blackwell tells you one song is all she needs. In her words she owns that song she hones it like a queen, a sleazy star of some speakeasy scene’. These carefully chosen words inform you that this reluctant star commands the stage and the audience in a way that no man ever will. This an excellent poem where you are taken to the bar to such an extent you feel you actually there.
In Things I’m Not Afraid Of, the poet lists things she isn’t afraid of such as ‘milk and kittens’ and five hundred piece jigsaws of hills’ personally I would be terrified of that last one but hey that’s just me Sophia does however go on to say that she does have problems with a few things. These include ‘death, morning breath, The Daily Mail, and reality TV. Yes well I think we may have some common ground on those issues and probably loads of others as well. That said I like the fact she said that there are things she’s not afraid because cats aren’t. Now I don’t know about anyone else but that seems pretty logical to me.
In the final poem in this breathtaking collection Some Nights The Stars Are Here. Sophia writes on the tenderness of love. The images used to describe this are so soft and gentle there is a genuine fragility about them I love the idea of the dark being colossal but never sheer though my favourite line in this beautifully written, and well crafted piece is ‘In your arms I turn my back on fear. I can’t think of a better way of describing the raw emotional power of love and I can’t think of a book I’ve enjoyed reviewing more than this wonderful inspirational collection of poetry that every woman should own. You see gifts, dancing, and uncertain kisses are things I’m not afraid of and neither I’m glad to say is the poet who led me into the temptation of reading her well versed words.
Love And Best Wishes