To gender or not to gender? (Thoughts prompted by the death of Zaha Hadid)

Thoughtful commentary on gendered language use.

language: a feminist guide

Last week, after Zaha Hadid’s death was announced, someone I know posted on Facebook: ‘It’s annoying that the coverage keeps referring to her as “the world’s most prominent female architect”. Why not “one of the world’s most prominent architects?”’

Most people who responded agreed that it was sexist to put Hadid into a subcategory of ‘female architects’ rather than acknowledging her status as one of the leading figures in contemporary architecture, period. But one person dissented, arguing that since it’s still harder for women to succeed in most professions, drawing attention to Hadid’s sex underlined rather than detracting from her achievements. This commenter also felt that highlighting women’s successes explicitly was important, because it helped to inspire other women and girls.

‘To gender or not to gender’ is a question that has also divided feminist linguists. Robin Lakoff, author of the influential early text Language andWoman’sPlace, is…

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Some recent pictures. (And not of any of the local springs.)

Sheep being moved on North Hill.

Primroses at Croome Court.

British Camp.



Paper birch (Betula papyrifera)? growing with silver birches.

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Auction aftermath

People In Motion will be able to help more families in the refugee camps thanks to all those who turned out on a foul February night for this. Thank you!


We did it! Thanks to everyone who donated or turned up or bid or promoted or helped on the night. West Malvern Social Club was packed. We took almost £1000 on the night and there’s more to collect from those bidders who couldn’t be there at the close. The atmosphere was fabulous. Thank you all, again.


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LOTS! to bid for

Here’s a listing of the actual lots available on the night of Friday 5 Feb or for email bids by Wednesday 3 Feb. Just look at all the amazing possibilities – aerial hoops or silk (so sploiled for choice!), cookery and even archery, to mention just a few.

Pst, there’s a writing workshop on offer. It will be fun and fascinating (for me – hopefully for the winner and friends, too).

[EDIT: at West Malvern Social Club, not village hall!]


More on the fabulous fund-raising auction ConFab are hosting for People In Motion, supporting refugees in Dunkirk: West Malvern Village Hall, 8.30pm Friday 5 Feb.

Come to the party and bid on the night in cash (+ donations of warm clothing, footwear, sleeping bags, toiletries etc welcome!) OR you can bid by emailing until WEDNESDAY 3 Feb, 7pm.

The generously donated lots include workshops or tuition in juggling, sewing, piano, cooking, aerial silk, writing, flute and even archery. Beautiful silver, gold or pewter jewellery and children’s clothing has been hand-crafted for the event. There are vouchers for spa, pamper and other sessions including a vintage vinyl disco session, baby sitting, home-made baking and much, much, more.

There will be songs sung and poems written to order on the night.

Here’s a list of the lots so far (in no particular order) with pictures of just a few:


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Review: How to Euthanise a Cactus, by Stephen Derwent Partington


16 01 how to euthanise a cactus review


A review sometimes says as much, if not more, about the reviewer as the reviewed*. So I shall begin by fessing up that I still do not feel comfortable commentating on others’ work; I am all too aware of my own limitations (non-literary/classical education; lack of depth, coming to poetry relatively recently in my life – a decade is not long enough to begin to scratch the surface). However, How to Euthanise a Cactus, published by Cinnamon Press, is one of those collections that gets me deep in the gut or under my skin or any other clichéd term for Wow! so here goes.

In the opening poem, ‘Nightmares’, “There are truths we cannot write/ … / We know their names,/ we know their faces.” One strand of the collection is of dark, often caustically humorous, disgust with corrupt socio-political life; the other strand is of tender love for those close to us. They are part of the same whole, honed by sharp intelligence and unflinching observation, mainly of Kenya, Derwent Partington’s chosen homeland.

From ‘Narration’, the poems move deftly into the political. ‘Lethe’ considers how “In 4-by-4s, Big Men from each and every province” wish to erase historic violence even from memory – harking back to ‘Nightmares’ (“It was all a dream”), ending, “You don’t remember? I have a cutting. Take a peek.”

Nothing is wasted. “Cutting” might be the obvious newspaper clip or it might be a physical scar or a burial. Some poems meld classical references with sharp currency, highlighting that there is nothing new in atrocities or greed. They bear witness to human frailty or abuse guised as “refined Armani politics”. Brief notes at the back clarify Kenyan references and double meanings (for example, someone requesting “soda” might be soliciting a bribe).

Many of the poems highlight unbalance in humanity but there is uplifting celebration, too. ‘Praise Poem’ begins:

We praise the man who,
though he held the match between
his finger and his thumb,
beheld the terror of its tiny drop of phosphorus,
its brown and globoid smoothness
like a charred and tiny skull
and so returned it to its box.

Each stanza honours a man who didn’t do something – violence, rape, oppression – but stepped back from hate, from any footnote in a history text, and walked away unknown. It ends:

And to the rest of us,
a blessing:
may you never have to be that man,
but if you have to,

If poetry’s the new rock and roll, that one’s an anthem that should raise the rafters at any gig.

All is written with a clarity of vision on whatever stage or scale and a complete, precise control of language. Details are observed – and used – exactly: “Did you notice? Did you frown, or did you grin?” The ideas move far beyond their immediate groundings, as does the narration.

The last section of Cactus includes some intensely personal poems on childbirth, love and belonging. “Oxford: I forget which college” has become part of the narrator’s Kenya: “chapel: small and darkwood/ like a shrine carved in the belly/ of a baobab tree…”

Towards the end (where we do learn how to euthanise a cactus but you’ll have to read it yourself to find out) local drought brings us back to the political as “The dam is gaping …/ … the wildlife …/ turn their backs, like politicians/ saunter on.”

There’s so much to applaud I’ve not even touched on in this review; absolutely recommended.


*Edit: This was written before the #derangedpoetess Twitterstorm.

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The Auction

All funds raised go to aid refugees.
Please bid by email (till 3 Feb) or come along in person on Friday 5 feb.
I’m offering a four-hour workshop as my donation.


ConFab Cabaret cordially invites you to our Silent-ish Auction of Gifts and Promises, With Added Interactive Appeal.

More information and details on FaceBook.


We are raising much needed funds for People in Motion, a local group of volunteers who are working incredibly hard to support people living in refugee camps in Calais, Dunkirk and further afield. All the money we raise will go towards providing facilities for people in the camps to cook, and basic packs of clean clothes and essential items for the women and children who tend to hide away in their damp tents and are easily overlooked.

The Auction will see a pile of glorious treats up for grabs, both new items and vouchers for amazing experiences. Precisely what these are depend partly on YOU, dear reader, as we are asking everyone to think of something lovely that they could bring or…

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Mouth & Music

Mouth and Music is Kidderminster’s regular spoken word and music event run by Worcestershire Poet Laureate Heather Wastie and Sarah Tamar at the Boar’s Head. Their December theme was “Principal Boys and Dames” so they invited Hilda Sheehan and myself to talk about Swindon Poetry Festival 2014’s “Man for a Day” event (which was tangentially about drag) and to share our poetry. Unfortunately, Hilda’s car broke down and she couldn’t make it so the audience were left at my solo mercy. I covered all bases theme-wise by wearing tails and a tiara but the poetry was a mix of some of my more party-friendly poems and not the darker work I included at Swindon.



The open mic had a really good mix and included next month’s headliners, the lovely Sarah Tamar and Ian Passey (The Humdrum Express: “The missing link between Billy Bragg and Half Man Half Biscuit,” to quote Attila The Stockbroker).



The final headline act for the party night was the wonderfully named Flying Ant Day who were a superb surreal joy. Their singer was alarmingly flirty in drag that included sexy santa-ess outfit, white tights, scarlet lippy and dangerous heels (‘No, hadn’t better dance too hard; I have to look after these; they’re not mine. No, really, they’re not. [pause] They’re my dad’s.’).

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