Many years ago I used to teach the poetry anthology Is That the New Moon? Poems by Women Poets to my sixth form English Literature students. Edited by Wendy Cope, I imagine this was a coursework text, but I can’t actually remember for certain.
The poems collected were, and still are, dynamic and challenging. Published by Lions Teen Tracks in 1989, these were aimed at teenagers – Wendy Cope states in the Introduction girls aged 13-16, though I’m not convinced that was a sensible target audience, and she does additionally write I see no reason why it shouldn’t also be read by women, or by men and teenage boys – and they touched then on ‘issues’ still relevant and vibrant today, taking on a resonance in the contemporary light of 2018, not least in this popularly ascribed ‘Year of the Woman’.
But this isn’t my key reason for writing now. I am referring to this book on the day after the death of Jenny Joseph was announced. Her famous poem Warning is, not surprisingly, one of those collected in the book.
I had such fun teaching and working with students on this collection. One of my fondest memories is of the posters [they were much more than this] small groups of students produced for display to convey the significance of the poem they had chosen to study and exemplify primarily through a visual representation. If I can find the photos of these I will post at a later time.
The collection includes classics like Maya Angelou’s Still I Rise, Grace Nichol’s Beauty and Sylvia Plath’s Mirror, but the poems I recall creating the most impact, for reading and study, were these:
Age to Youth – Judith Wright
Between the Lines – Carole Satyamurti
The Buddha’s Wife – Ruth Silcock
Comprehensive – Carol Ann Duffy
In the Men’s Room(s) – Marge Piercy
Kissing – Fleur Adcock
Malta – Helen Dunmore
Nice Men – Dorothy Byrne
Translations – Adrienne Rich
Warning – Jenny Joseph
For most of those recalling the passing of Jenny Joseph yesterday, mainly on social media, Warning is the poem they often cite and celebrate, and quite rightly so.
But there is another one from Jenny Joseph in the Cope collection, and I think it confirms what a feisty writer she was beyond the poem for which she will be most remembered: