A Review of Autonomy edited by Kathy D’Arcy
(New Binary Press 2018)
Autonomy edited by Kathy D’Arcy forces us to sit up and listen to a chorus of voices which have been silenced for too long. The pieces in this collection are brutal, tender, sorrowful, harrowing, beautiful and sometimes bizarrely humorous. Most importantly, they give those of us (fortunate enough to determine what happens with our bodies), a range of perspectives on the horrible reality for women who have been denied the fundamental right to ‘bodily autonomy’:
if a woman does not have the right to decide what happens to her own body … her very personhood is undermined. (Anna Fured)
The anthology opens with two ferocious and wonderful poems. ‘Kindling’ by Sinead Gleeson and ‘Labhrann Medb’ (Medb Speaks) by Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill translated by Michael Hartnett. Gleeson’s images:
They prefer us convex and compliant
And are vexed by how
we rise like mountains bog-damp and river sleek.
Leaves in our peaty hair
and the first lines of Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill’s poem:
War I declare from now
on all the men of Ireland …
are a fitting introduction for a book that is packed with narratives of pain, sadness, shame and fear and also of bravery, fortitude and unbelievable resilience in the face of unrelenting oppression by a patriarchal state.
There is much to digest in this book of essays, memoirs, stories, poems, plays and articles. We read heart-wrenching memoirs by Cliona Saidlear and Tracey Smith, we hear the rousing speech given by Eileen Flynn to Traveller Women and we learn extraordinary and dreadful truths in excellent articles on sex workers’ rights and abortion rights movements by Grace Wilentz and Catriona O’Brien.
The poetry in Autonomy ranges from strident war cries to lyrical verse and political commentary. Anne Casey’s ‘If Wallets Were Skirts’ offers a twist on the reality of reporting rape. Kate Dempsey’s ‘Yet To Be Found’ asks an age old feminist question. And the shocking political truth in ‘Silently, the Women Waited’ by Angela Carr is made more terrible by the gentle cadence of her verse:
The clocks ticked down, the men debated
the Proclamation and celebrated
while, silently, the women waited
one hundred years to be placated,
a body, sovereign, emancipated —
the clocks ticked on, the men debated — …
mental acuity checked and rated,
the clocks ticked on, the men debated
and, silently, the women waited.
One of the most astonishing things about this anthology is the capacity of women to view their plight through the lens of the absurd. We find ourselves smiling wryly at the wit of many of these writers. The sharply satirical piece, ‘Colony’ by Claire Hennessy, delicately hovers between the comical notion of girls as sacred vessels and the appalling consequences of that deeply held ridiculous belief.
Girls, we’ve all been there – that CRINGE moment that hits sometime between ages 10-14 where you’re declared a Sacred Vessel and you’re going WTAF?! Worry not – here’s five quick & easy ways to make your former-norm life Suitably Sacred!
The Sacred Vessels must be protected as far as is reasonably capable by man, with a view to ensuring the salvation of life within their wombs. – Articles of the Colonies, Article 13.2
Kathy D’Arcy’s Autonomy offers us richly written texts of courage and hope. We read of women forced to stay pregnant against their will, raped women, beaten women, bleeding women, abused women, angry women, silent women who are silent no more. We hear the ringing battle cries of women who are resolved to prevail against the tyrannical patriarchy of church and state. We listen to heart breaking stories of loss and brokenness. We applaud words of strength and determination and we know that this long fought struggle to take our selves back will surely be won.
Autonomy is available from New Binary Press, Cork, Ireland newbinarypress.com/product/autonomy.