We’re not beautiful, we’re not ugly, we’re angry*
This pamphlet is a powerful exploration of the challenges and prejudices which act against women’s equality. Articulate and political, Ruth Aylett deploys clarity of vision and agile imagery to navigate her themes of motherhood, social conditioning, and the struggles for sexual and civil rights. Every poem earns its place.
The poem ‘Pink’ refers to the word ‘pink’ no fewer than fifteen times. It directly emphasises and dissects ‘layer upon layer’ the expectations that girls conform to a stereotype:
in rooms from which
green, yellow, purple, red
and above all blue
are expunged and deleted.
The repetition acts as a mantra through which I read a thread of irony.
In ‘Moving matters’ a female child arrives for a new school year. She’s depicted as different, challenging, intelligent, substantial rather than image driven: ‘untidy, full of long words, too sure’, although accepted by the boys for her ability to ‘run, chuck a ball and shove’. The poet packs the lines with commentary on how little is expected of women from an early age. This child gets by under cover of being a tomboy:
Moved from a different jigsaw
where an odd but accepted feature
cannot slot into this new picture.
This theme is reinforced in ‘Molly’. The narrator reflects on the future available to this child. It’s an intimate poem of acceptance, charting her preferences and development as a seven-year-old. Yet, the final stanza suggests a hesitancy based on hope over experience:
crossing our fingers and toes that
your confidence and certainties
will never be squashed by any futures,
especially the ones we fear most.
‘Tales my mother told me’ is a tribute to the poet’s mother, a deft, moving piece about influence and inspiration. Story jars hold memories of a life clawing up the ladder of inequality.
I’ve heard Ruth Aylett give compelling readings of ‘When Rosa met Marilyn’ on two occasions. She inhabits both characters through the power of contrasting voices — each subject a witness to male discrimination.
Pretty in Pink is an honest and thought-provoking set of political poems.