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BOOKS Pretty in Pink

Masterful poems reveal revolutionary potential in women’s experience

RUTH AYLETT’S new collection Pretty in Pink is written in a “fury of hope” for the political coming of age of a new generation shorn of patriarchy and gender stereotypes.

And there is no doubt where her loyalties lie. She summons the presence of the murdered Rosa Luxemburg: “I was,” says the revolutionary. “I am. I will be.”

At the book’s centre is the poem The Chosen One — Sestina for a Lost Child, which tests the expressive power of words to the limit. Within its dreamy meditative structure — a free-form mantra — she appears to grieve the miscarriage of a child: “a red life leaves/the body, a not-yet-child.”

It is a poem marked by two vivid colours: red is the lost hope and green the persistent state of the world. At the end, Aylett reverses the sense of grief by summoning up “a faraway voice [that] never leaves/off calling the unnamed child into time.”

This is the voice of her muse and its purpose is to confirm that “red life” is born again into history.

The single overtly political poem celebrates an anti-Trump demonstration of “young women with clear eyes/soft skin, unconscious/elegance and home-made/home-lettered cardboard signs.”

Aylett has her finger on this particular pulse. The character of that protest and the identity of the new generation is “queer-feminist,” and that identity bubbles up throughout the collection. The warrior Achilles “was a woman/not the weapon they expected,” while the male Achilles “could not tell the gender of his heart.”

In surveying the protest, her “doubting inner voice” says that “they do not know defeat” and her artistic voice has already disassembled them as gender stereotypes and knows they will get through the woods to stand “amazed by distances, landscapes.”

And the ironic “pink” of the collection's title title is not just a signifier of the oppression of women. It is also the camouflage of new and unexpected social alliances, of new politics and of life itself: “Twenty minutes on the ward/and out the baby squirts, slippery as soap,/dripping, navy blue;/in one breath on her belly, pink.”

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