This morning, I’m thrilled to fill the guest blogger slot on Anthony Wilson’s poetry blog, where I write about the Renaissance poet, Aemilia Lanyer. Her indignant refusal to roll over and take it like a woman changed me, and changed my reading habits.
Lanyer’s subversive, ironic, yet reverent engagement with her Biblical sources reminds me of David Kinloch’s HappenStance pamphlet, Some Women. It’s two series of monologues: Old Testament and New Testament voices. ‘I’m a bitch, I’m a lover / I’m a child, I’m a mother / I’m a sinner, I’m a saint / I do not feel ashamed’ sang Meredith Brooks in 1997 – casting all women as nameless functionaries of an overwhelming and often contradictory list of duties. In Kinloch’s hands, the unnamed Cain’s Wife had it no different: ‘I was a tiller, a sower, a hoer, a sewer, / a server, a scyther, a shearer, a reaper, / a planter, a mower, a herder, a milker, / a minder, a plougher, a thresher, a gleaner, / with no time for a name of my own’. It’s not just the overwhelming range of physical labour here. It’s the fact that it’s all agricultural labour – work that ties people to the land yet, with her husband’s murder of his brother, Abel, she will, presumably, wander the Earth alongside her other half, blameless yet equally defined by the mark of Cain. Needless to say, her fate doesn’t merit a mention in the good book. It’s also worth mentioning that Kinloch’s Scots wordplay is a hoot: ‘a hoer’ – a whore? Later, we’ll encounter Mosaic tablets but will think of the sugary Scottish confection instead.
By the end of the pamphlet, in First Letter of the Hebrew Women to St Paul, Kinloch’s sentiments sound a lot like Lanyer’s: ‘Hebrew Women, apostles of Christ Jesus to Paul, / alleged saint, notorious scribbler: grace to you / and peace from God our Father. Now look here: // Adam could have said ‘no thanks’ or ‘apples / disagree with me’. He didn’t. He had a bite / as well. So he was deceived. Just like Eve. // We’re equal and get used to it’. The internal rhyme of ‘deceived’ and ‘Eve’ invites the reader to see Eve as so culpable that her crime has entered the language. It’s a playful false etymology, as ‘deceived’ has a Latin root. The OED says that ‘the literal sense of Latin dēcipĕre was apparently to catch in a trap, to entrap, ensnare; hence, to catch by guile; to get the better of by fraud; to cheat, mislead’ but I like Kinloch’s new vista on this word better.