Picking up a book of poetry is a task I usually reserve for my lectures which requires an intellectual engagement with a purposeful end in mind. So with this book as well I had my resistance and fear on either side, ready for it to be replaced by my half read copy of Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth. After all, shouldn’t women talk about feminism and oppressive patriarchal expectations of them? Thus with some scepticism, I decided to give Collegiality, the cover of which claimed to offer ‘Feminist Poems by Male and Non-Binary Allies’, a benefit of doubt. However, the moment I randomly opened to Inam Hussain Begg Mullick’s poem, ‘Fear of Lizards’, I was drawn into the vivid description of a lizard, a rat and a cockroach, that reminded me of Ted Hughes’s poetic use of animal imagery. Except, this one talked about women and a shared discomfort with mathematics, lizards, and menstrual cycles. I immediately knew that I have found my chai companion for the next couple of days! Mullick’s poem that struck a chord (of disgust for crawling creatures) made me flip to the next page to K Satchidanandan’s ‘Non-Negotiable’ and I shut my eyes in agony, ‘Then she poured petrol/ from head to foot/ and set herself afire.’ The despair of a woman choosing death by fire over oppression is hardly a point for negotiation.
September 2021, volume 45, No 9