working class women

Guest Post: Launch Day for ‘Wild Persistence’ by Katrina Naomi with poem ‘Boasting Sonnet’

I am very excited about today’s guest post by Katrina Naomi, because today is the LAUNCH DAY of her third collection, Wild Persistence published by Seren Books. Katrina is a great supporter of poets and poetry, running workshops, mentoring, as well as active in the Society of Authors as member of their Poetry and Spoken Word Group. Katrina previously appeared on Proletarian Poetry back in 2015. So why not celebrate Katrina’s launch day by reading her guest feature, and if you can, buying Wild Persistence here. She is also doing a virtual launch on June 11th, details here.


Head n Shoulders“I’ve chosen to write about the poem ‘Boasting Sonnet’, from my new collection, Wild Persistence, (Seren, 1 June 2020) partly because it’s joyful and partly because the poem considers questions around class.

I was brought up working class, ‘me from a council estate’ in Margate, Kent, and was expelled from school. Since then, I’ve gone on to do any number of things that I might not have seen for myself, including moving to Cornwall. I was commissioned to write ‘Boasting Sonnet’ by Alyson Hallett and Rachel Bentham for Project Boast, a project which asked women to write about their achievements. To begin with, I found the idea of boasting about myself difficult. Then I thought of Sharon Olds’ poem ‘The Language of the Brag’ – how it takes on male entitlement – and I began writing.

wild persistenceOnce I had my first line, I really enjoyed myself. I decided to mix things up, in what is a pretty personal poem, placing areas of my life that I might consider to be showy, alongside things that are more flippant. Everything in ‘Boasting Sonnet’ is true. Sharon Olds did write me a poem, after I interviewed her back in 2011, and I have no truck with marriage.

I love receiving commissions – I’m working on one at the moment – I like how they take me out of my comfort zone, when I’m asked to write in a new way, or to write in response to a subject I know next to nothing about. And as a poet, I think it’s good to be taken out of your comfort zone, to have your foundations shaken up a little. (Although perhaps there’s enough of that at the moment?)

Still, ‘Boasting Sonnet’ reminds me that I still think of myself as working class – and that I’ve very much been taken out of my comfort zone – going to Poly, then University, entering into a new language, and only then – much later, not until my early 30s, discovering poetry.

This mix up is what makes a life, and is possibly what makes a poem. I don’t usually write sonnets – and usually avoid rhyme – but once I’d opened up on the boasting, I needed a way to contain it. I’d been re-reading Patience Agbabi’s wonderful sonnet, ‘Transformatrix’, so I thought I’d see if the form might work for all of this showing off. I feel it does. ‘Boasting Sonnet’ told me things I’d perhaps forgotten. It also enabled me to say things I might not previously have been brave enough to share.”

Katrina Naomi received an Authors’ Foundation award from the Society of Authors for her third full collection, Wild Persistence, (Seren, June 2020). Katrina has published four pamphlets of poetry, including the Japan-themed Typhoon Etiquette (Verve Poetry Press, 2019). Her poetry has appeared on Radio 4’s Front Row and Poetry Please, and on Poems on the Underground. Katrina was the first poet-in-residence at the Brontë Parsonage Museum and was highly commended in the 2017 Forward Prize for Poetry. She has a PhD in creative writing (Goldsmiths) and tutors for Arvon, Tŷ Newydd and the Poetry School. She lives in Cornwall.


Boasting Sonnet

I’m not one to brag but Sharon Olds wrote
me a poem; me from a council estate.

I’ve done handstands, on a skateboard, downhill
yet failed both Maths and English O level.

I’m still in love with the man I met at
eighteen. I don’t believe in marriage but

I once won an award for headbanging
and chaired human rights talks at the UN.

Expelled from school, I’m now a PhD.
I don’t wear make-up, this is the real me

unless I’m doing panto. In Cornish.
I’m a qualified mountain leader. Wish

you could see my scything and lindyhop.
I’d say much more but sonnets make you stop.

(from Wild Persistence, Seren, 2020, which you can buy here)


For Eliza (my great grandmother) by Katrina Naomi

It is an indictment on those who hold power and are resistant to its democratisation that days such as yesterday’s International Women’s Day remain such an important reminder of the discrimination women face throughout the world. Here in the UK, it is particularly poignant given the upcoming general election, where women’s role in politics is still far outweighed by men; though I do like to think it is no coincidence that the more progressive political parties of the United Kingdom, the Greens, Plaid Cymru, and SNP are all now led by women.

The suffragette movement of course was instrumental in creating change. But I used to think it was portrayed as a rather middle/upper class movement, when, this is clearly not the case. There are many examples of working class women involved in the movement, and campaigning for equal rights many years before the turn of the century.

A programme just this week on BBC television, Suffragette’s Forever, showed how in the 1850s, in response to the male dominated Chartist movement, there was the formation of the Sheffield Female Political Union, who proclaimed: “To the women of England, beloved sisters, it is our birth-right, equally with our brothers to vote for our destiny, …and we ask in the name of the new justice must we continue ever the silent and servile victims of his injustice? Is the oppression to last forever? We, the women of the democracy of Sheffield, answer – No!” As Professor Amanda Vickery says, ‘it disputes the idea that working class women were downtrodden and prepared to suffer and be still; but more than that it gives a lie to the idea that the suffragette movement was a snooty middle class affair born in drawing rooms in Kensington and Mayfair. It seems to me it was born here in Sheffield in 1851.”

Katrina NaomiKatrina Naomi’s elegiac poem ‘For Eliza (my great-grandmother) who ‘ran away to north London,/never spoke of home, fled as a child/from that gap on the form where your father would have been;’ and who went on to be part of a movement that changed the course of history ‘When you straightened up,/out of the poor light, you thrust a pin/through the crown of your best straw hat/worked amongst those with a larger vision.’ beautifully encapsulates the height of the suffragette movement, (more…)