Sainsbury’s can sell your daughter a beautician’s outfit but not a lab coat and stethoscope. Although I’d always known that the girls’ toy aisle is a lurid pink, it never bothered me until my own daughter walked through its patriarchal nightmare of submission and subserviance. She loves Disney, dresses and all things pink, and, yes, I’m sure that this is just because she’s a little girl but, even though she’s only five, I can feel the weight of our culture pressing against the doors and windows – and it’s flooding through the cracks. As a gesture, we binned our stash of glossies and Sunday supplements but we’d be better off leaving the house in blinkers, for all the good it’ll do us.
For me, the highlight of Carmina Masoliver’s 8 poem chap-book is her reimagining of Rapunzel. The poem is immured between a repeated, blunt, single sentence stanza: ‘My hair feels heavy today.’ The speaker says ‘I remember the chop, / when the taste of freedom / was a gulp of fresh air. I could run / in the wind without its whip.’ The colloquial ‘chop’ equates the hair-cut with castration, implying that luxuriant hair is the source feminine sexuality and that deliverance from this is an unbridling (although Rapunzel’s hair only grew so long because of her kidnap and imprisonment, and was shorn as an act of revenge by the witch. Either way, she’s a victim). Across the stanza break, the poem jumps through time and into a contemporary urban space, where ‘The length of each new strand / contains a new kind of pain, / from the muttered insults / and ignorant opinions / from train commuters // and internet commentators.’ We realise that the Grimms’ solitary confinement is easy when compared with the comments and judgements our children risk being subjected to online, even within the ‘privacy’ of their bedrooms. I don’t feel that I can spoil the poem’s coup de grâce here, so I’ll leave you to fork out the £2 required to experience it.
In ‘Bethnal Green,’ Masoliver further enriches her theme as ‘The girls are quiet here, but they call out poetry on rooftops / where their hijabs are not a symbol of oppression. They speak / of their identity in an English mixed with Bengali.’ Read against Rapunzel, the rooftops are just a substitution for the phallic tower, a shorthand for oppression. However, the calling out of poetry amongst themselves characterises these girls as culturally engaged, a community and loud – all of of which runs counter to Western stereotypes of Islam.
Masoliver reminds us that symbols are slippery things and that we’d do well to proceed with caution when ascribing them with meaning. Take Rapunzel – the earliest version that Marina Warner can find is the Neapolitan Petrosinella (parsley), 1634 – 1636, and asks why the girl’s mother is desperate for parsley, a popular abortifacient, and wonders whether the witch’s attempt to keep the baby from men is simply her best effort to prevent a genetic inheritance from repeating itself.
Carmina Masoliver shows me where I’m standing and reminds me of the limitations of my perspective – I’m still not sure about that beautician’s outfit though.
- Carmina Grrrowls!!! – Carmina Masoliver’s website
- Carmina Masoliver’s tumblr
- Carmina Masoliver’s SoundCloud
Over the past two years, Nasty Little Press have published 10 Intros. Intro authors have been mentored through the editing process with a view to publishing a longer collection of poems in the future.
Nasty Little Intros are kindly supported by Arts Council England.
Nasty Little press makes no profit from Intros. 100% of the cover price goes to the author.