‘a book about taking our selves back’
Ann Furedi, Chief Executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, defines ‘autonomy’ in the book’s Foreword as, ‘our ability to make our own life choices, [which] sits behind the principle of respect for bodily integrity, the belief that our bodies are our own to control and that, providing we cause no harm to others, our bodies are free for us to control’. The book itself was put together in support of the campaign in Ireland to repeal the Eighth Amendment, and was published several weeks before the referendum vote confirmed the country’s intention to do so. Amid a rising tide of feminism and growing calls for equality – marked also by the 2015 referendum on same sex marriage – the book engages with the issue from a wide variety of perspectives. This, for me, is one of the most exciting aspects of the way this anthology about ‘taking our selves back’ has been selected and edited by Kathy D’Arcy.
In almost three hundred pages of stories, poems, plays, memoirs and manifestoes, the book brings together the voices of a strikingly representative cross-section of the community – including cis-gendered women who have and have not experienced abortion first-hand, those born into families wracked by post-natal depression and electro-convulsive therapy as a result of enforced pregnancies, and speakers from marginalised communities including the Irish Traveller Community, the community of Sex Workers and the LGBTQI+ community. Recognising from the outset that ‘respect for our bodily integrity’ includes far wider issues of autonomy and inclusion that affect people across the intersectional spectrum. It’s incredibly radical and affirming to find essays such as ‘Repealing the Eighth and why it’s a LGBTQI+ issue’ by Sharon Nolan, which outlines the urgent need to recognise issues of bodily autonomy and reproductive equality for people who are gay, bi, and/or trans, and which outlines the ways that the language used in campaigns such as this can ultimately either exclude or include trans women. The book, with its wide arc of inclusivity and diversity, reminds readers that the struggle for reproductive rights is not only a struggle for cis-gendered, heterosexual women, but a common concern for all those whose bodies make them a target for marginalisation, oppression, violence and abuse.
Opening with the poem, ‘Kindling’ by Sinéad Gleeson, which likens the Irish landscape to the contours of a pregnant body and declares, ‘We light fires, not candles / We choose protest, not prayer’, Autonomy speaks with defiance, tenderness, humour, anger and compassion as it gives voice to those who demand to be heard on the issue of bodily autonomy. The book also contains extracts from Fiona O’Connor’s poetic play, ‘she had a ticket in mind’, which was performed in London as part of the anthology’s launch. The play explores and interweaves the histories of the Magdalene Laundries, young girls’ journeys to England for secret abortions, children taken away to America for adoption, post-natal depression, and gives voice to some of the silent/silenced women from Ireland’s national history and literary culture. Autonomy ends with the cautiously-positive affirmation, ‘I do not feel different, after. Just, lighter’ from Emilie Roberts’ short story, ‘Edges’. This feels like an appropriate starting point for the post-referendum air of hope granted by the decision to repeal the Eighth Amendment, as Ireland prepares to enter a new era in relation to bodily autonomy, equality and reproductive justice.
About the Publisher:
New Binary Press is a Cork-based small press, publishing work by writers outside the Irish literary mainstream.
Review by Sally-Shakti Willow
Sally-Shakti Willow researches and writes utopian poetics and performs poetry as ritual to open up [r]evolutionary space for positive transformation. She teaches poetry and creative writing at the University of Westminster. Her poems have been published by Adjacent Pineapple, Eyewear, The Projectionist’s Playground and Zarf. Chapbooks to date: The Unfinished Dream (Sad Press, 2016) and Atha (forthcoming with Knives, Forks and Spoons). Find her on Twitter: @Spaewitch.