A review of The Alphabet of Women edited by Miriam Hechtman

Reviewed by Beatriz Copello

The Alphabet of Women
The story of woman told by twenty-six alliterating poets
Edited by Miriam Hechtman
Ginninderra Press
January 2022, ISBN-13: 978-1761092282, Paperback, 74pages

Wow! Wonderful words of wisdom written by wise women. This is my attempt at alliteration inspired by The Alphabet of Women which, as the subtitle indicates, contains poems written by twenty-six women poets. Each poet wrote a poem according to a letter in the alphabet and utilising the technique of alliteration.

William Sieghart, founder of the National Poetry Day said that “A really successful poetry anthology needs two essential ingredients: pace and rhythm. The editor has to think hard about which poems are put together and how they relate to each other. Much of the challenge is working on the order and identifying certain poems that act as breathers to achieve the right tempo.” I believe that the editor of The Alphabet of Woman Miriam Hechtman has achieved this.

In the introduction, Hechtman explains that to tell the story of woman she shared each letter of the alphabet with the poets and when selecting the poets her emphasis was placed on diversity and representation. She said: “Poets were challenged twofold — the anthology would be both a womanhood inquiry but also a poetic challenge.”

The richness and variety of topics and styles is impressive. Many of the stories in the poems tell us about the strength of women and their struggle to survive in a male dominated world. These are poems written about women’s lives, from the quotidian to the extraordinary, from the intimate to the distant, from the general to the particular.

Many of the of the poets use humour to deal with oppression, structural inequities, and emotional trauma, such as Joanne Fedler’s “Jewgirl Juju”:

the fight for justice
for our gender –
(the junket jimmied
for jocks-with-cocks)
and jobs-for-gents-with-no-v’jinas

Some of the poems can be classified as concrete poetry because the poet’s intent is conveyed by graphic patterns of words rather than in a conventional arrangement. For example, Rowan Rose, who was allocated the letter O wrote a poem and gave it the form of the letter O. Also in a poem about the letter C, the poet Amanda Cohen not only utilises many alliterations but also her poems take the shape of a curve, reflecting the body curves she writes about. The following are the first few lines of her poem titled “Canvas”:

I was cultivated in a cultural curriculum on my curves —
which to covet, which to cover, which to convert to currency
or cause blood to course through capillaries like electrical currents.

Some of the poems take the alliteration as far as it can go, creating delightful tongue twisters that are a joy to read aloud, as in the following by Gabrielle Journey Jones titled “Girl Guidelines”:

Grind gutsy goals
Guard against garrulous
Gather goofy sniggering
Grasp digestible gratitude
Guzzle gullible guilt
Galvanise guaranteed goodness
Grieve intergenerational
Glimpse glimmering forgotten

Other poets write in narrative style like Erica Hacker, Tanya Southey, Stacey Cotter Maniere and Ginette Ball, whose work creates stories built around fascinating events and issues.

I was pleased to find an erotic poem included in the collection. Daiane Moret’s “Desire” manages to combine alliteration with rich sensuality that visually lingers on the final extended word:

A devious
the moonlight
the odour
night jasmine
a golden sky
wild animal

The poetic richness of this anthology is evident from the first poem by Anna Forsyth to the last one by Limor Fayena. This is an anthology that uses language in novel and entertaining ways, exploring the many aspects of women’s lives, perspectives, relationships, and pain in a way that I’ve not seen before. The Alphabet of Women is a wonderful collection: every poem is a sparkling gem, unique and delightful in its own way.

About the reviewer: Dr Beatriz Copello writes poetry, fiction, reviews and plays. The author’s poetry books are: Women Souls and Shadows, Meditations At the Edge of a Dream, Flowering Roots, Under the Gums Long Shade, and Lo Irrevocable del Halcon (In Spanish). Beatriz’ poetry has been published in literary journals such as Southerly and Australian Women’s Book Review and in many feminist publications.