Painting of a woman, background in red and blue, yellow letteringPretty in Pink, Ruth Aylett

4Word, 2021     £5.99

Visceral womanhood: a manifesto against pinkification

In Ruth Aylett’s poems, stereotypes about women being the gentle sex are explored and refuted. In ‘Pink’, for example, the speaker describes with disdain an image of mothers wheeling

pink pushchairs
carrying small girls in pink furry hats,
with pink rabbits clutched in pink gloves.

In this pamphlet, women are dynamic, physical and alive; they cannot be captured in a vacuous selfie:

Freezing the face [...]
lies about its movement [...]

the play of thought
and feeling across
that surface proving
your river of beauty

Women are also angry and powerful. In ‘Finis terre’, the poet cleverly compares a conversation between a man and a woman to the structure of a piece of volcanic rock:

Inside, she says
keeping her voice cool,
there’s boiled quartz
and a glitter of sharp crystals

What appears calm on the surface is fierce and bright beneath. ‘True Story’ touches on female violence and revenge, as the body of a woman’s abusive husband is found in her shed — ‘They found the fracture marks across his head / exactly matched the stone frog by her bed.’

But women are victims here too. ‘Titration’ explores what happens to girls who don’t conform to society’s expectations. The protagonist ‘looked a mess, climbed trees, / wrestled with her younger brother’ and was dragged ‘under a young oak’ by ‘enough of them to hold her down’.

Overall, though, the poems are healing pieces. The beautiful ‘Chosen one — sestina for the lost child’ circles repeatedly around a miscarriage, creating a prayer-like chant that slowly melts into hopefulness:

In the flare of autumn leaves
and bonfires, another child
carries a new future on its back.

These poems consider menstruation, childbirth, and the menopause. They depict women as vivid, three-dimensional and strong, a far cry from the ‘tutus and princesses’ (‘Pink’) to which some would have them aspire.

Isabelle Thompson