Brutal and unapologetic celebration: Unkown by Anna Rose James and Elizabeth Chadwick Pywell

Unknown is a collection of twenty-seven poems by Anna Rose James and Elizabeth Cadwick Pywell. Over the past decade there has been a real movement towards centring women’s voices in poems and prose. Unknown belongs to this movement as it is inspired by women from myth and history who have been forgotten and neglected.

This is a brilliant poetry collection as it does not fall into the pitfall of conflating female presence with being inherently feminist. Its tenderness and resilience make this collection a feminist work of art. The poems of Unknown claim to “form a summoning of women whose names should be on your lips”. While the texts roll off of your tongue, as it demands to be read aloud, the women of this collection are guaranteed to be haunting your thoughts after reading.

a summoning of women

The collection features a fantastic poem titled ‘Cartimandua’, which retells the story of the first-century queen of the Brigantes that is visceral in its description of her power and rage before trailing off with a staggered “They will never// see it// coming”. The spacing of these last few lines do not lose the momentum that the poem had created but instead seems to redirect this energy into the white space of the page and allows readers to carry on the strength of Cartimandua themselves.

Both James and Pywell experiment with form across their poems and the spacing on the page is just as exciting as the lines that they have written. It imbues their poetry with a genuine sense of life that reflects the vivacity of the women at the core of their poems. ‘Bessie’ has a similar effect as the final lines are “Are you sitting comfortably? L e t ‘ s g o.”. Yet, Unknown does not go out of its way to comfort readers. It is fast-paced and raw and discards a patronising sentiment that some of these women have been associated with.

brutal and unapologetic celebration

This poetry collection is a brutal and unapologetic celebration of the women myth and history forgot. It spotlights women from the North such as Cartimandua and Anne Lister (better known as Gentleman Jack) and ensures that you will not forget them again.

Unknown can be purchased directly from publisher Stairwell Books or ordered in to any local independent bookshop. You can find more from the authors here (Anna Rose James) and here (Elizabeth Chadwick Pywell).

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