2016 has been another strong year for women crafting poetry that infiltrates the mainstream culture psyche. We heard Warsan Shire, the Somali poet, on Beyonce’s Lemonade, Instapoet Rupi Kaur, Ashlee Haze’s evocative stanzas on Blood Orange’s Freetown Sound and Siana Bangura’s Elephant came out of London’s DIY scene to illustrate the ins and outs of black womanhood. Now poet, filmmaker and model Greta Bellamacina’s SMEAR is platforming the poetic works of women, exploring everything from self-image to relationships, the shaky framework of beauty ideals and bodily autonomy.
SMEAR, the name of the collection, recalls an aspect of many women’s lives that’s quote confronting – the smear test. “It’s one of those words that tends to make you shudder,” says Bellamacina, but it’s frank and unapologetic in its examination of elements of womanhood.
“There doesn’t seem to be anything quite comparable in the poetry world,” Bellamacina says when discussing SMEAR. “I didn’t feel there was a comfortable place for young women in their teens and early twenties to voice their thoughts, their politics, their emotions through poetry. I found it frustrating myself growing up and I know a lot of poets who get disheartened early on. I wanted this collection to be open to first-time poets.”
Bellamacina put out a call on her New River Press Instagram, whittling down hundreds of submissions to 20, alongside some established artists. Primarily though, SMEAR is for first-time, emerging poets.
As well as Lisa Luxx, Katherine Vermillion and Afshan Shafi, the collection includes more emerging voices. “Sarah Roselle, Luisa Le Voguer Couyet (of Hate zine) and the young Russian poet Galina Rymbu, who I believe we’re the first to publish in English – she’s something like the poetry equivalent of Pussy Riot,” Bellamacina explains.
The poetry in this particular collection is world-spanning, uncovering the familiar, the light, the dark enclaves of womanhood. “I wanted SMEAR to be a collection of poems a mother might buy her daughter,” she says. “But also a collection of poems a daughter might buy her mother – poems that speak honestly about growing up.”
As poetry envelops Instagram pages and some of the year’s biggest album releases, it may seem like poetry is, at times, stepping away from its original origins of pen and paper, but Bellamacina sees it as an opportunity to carve another new space. She explains: “I think as screens take us over more and more the quiet space of books becomes even more valuable and more important. I feel like digital screens keep us in a slightly frantic mental space – and with a book in your hand you can go off-grid and be in your right mind.”
“I think the quiet space of books is more important than ever. Also, for the new poets we have in this book, I think it gives you confidence to see your work on the page.”
The sentiment for SMEAR, and New River Press, is that poetry is about honesty in the imperfections. “It is one of the rare art forms which mirrors human consciousness, there is a complexity to it which is comforting, because life is complex,” says Bellamacina. In a year of political and social turmoil, poetry is grounded and democratic in its emotion.
SMEAR is available from December 16 from New River Press here.