Menstruation, sex and reproductive rights have always been a hushed topic in our society. But how can its discussion be initiated through poems? The second session of Feminist Poetry Festival organised by SheThePeople.TV broke the silence around menstruation and female reproductive health through poetry. The session hosted Sonal Sharma, a spoken word artist and slam poet from Free The Verse, Dr Tripti Sharan, a gynaecologist and the author of Chronicles of a Gynaecologist and Bella Cox, an internationally acclaimed performance poet, vocalist and workshop facilitator. It was moderated by Sushruti Tripathi who is lawyer, poet, mediator, dancer and writer and the founder-director of Centre for Poetry and Conflict Resolution. The session was titled Period.
Bring issues like menstruation and reproductive health in poetry
Dr Tripti Sharan said that being a gynaecologist brought menstruation and reproduction in her poems. She has been writing poems about women she met as a gynaecologist and their struggle with reproductive rights. “In a clinic when you see women, they are very vulnerable and revealing about their struggles in the absence of their male partners. I felt it was very important to talk about these unspoken issues removing the social taboos. Through poems, I could bring out some harsh realities of women that are hidden in the sanitised walls of hospitals.”
The inspiration behind the Period Project was “the anger within me and the feeling that a big part of my life wasn’t allowed to be spoken about,” said Bella Cox about her new poetry collection. She added, “I wanted to open a space where minority voices within the menstrual world, like that of female to male transgender or women with hysterectomy, could be heard.”
“The plan is to write 28 poems to commemorate the 28 days cycle on an average from all different walks of life and teach young kids that every form of period is natural and we should speak about it,” Bella added.
Poetry as a means to discuss periods and sex
“Whenever I have performed my poetries on stage and invited the audience to share their period stories so that I can turn them into poetries, I have been overwhelmed with the number of people being grateful to have someone who wants to know these things,” said Cox explaining why poetry is a good medium to express and get people to talk about periods.
Adding further, Dr Sharan said, “It is important to have a dialogue to break the taboos on menstruation and reproductive health. We all should talk to boys about periods at home without biases.”
“And poetry is the best medium for that. It says so much in just two pages. In poetry, you can convey many meanings and messages and it also allows the readers the freedom to interpret,” she affirms.
Bella Cox also spoke about the power and beauty of spoken word poetry. “The beauty of doing performance poetry and spoken word poetries is its power to go viral. The knowledge can be transferred like wildfire. That’s the real beauty of the digital age that we need to capitalise on in order to open up these conversations.”
Discrimination from male colleagues on being a female poet
“I have largely been protected because I am a gynaecologist and I can talk about such things. But only until I don’t enter into people’s comfort zone because they start feeling threatened.” Dr Tripti Sharan pointed out how due to the misconception around feminism, feminist poets are discriminated and criticised. “There is nothing wrong in feminism. It is a felt need in our society. In our country, the demography is bad and maternal mortality rate is high. Why?” Quoting another gynaecologist she said, “Women in our country do not die by disease but because of poverty, ignorance and gender discrimination.”
Narrating her own experience of being discriminated against male poets, Cox said, “Male poets are introduced as a wordsmith, lyric God but women poets as gorgeous women. If I am a burlesque dancer you can introduce me as ‘beautiful’ that’s what I am here to be. But as a poet in a professional setting and where I am there to perform the words and share the literature that I have worked on, it always struck me as strange to be introduced as a beautiful poet. That’s not what I am there to be.”
Sonal Sharma also shared an anecdote of how she was pointed out for her ‘inappropriate’ poem. “I was performing my poems in college and a professor said my poem is too inappropriate and I shouldn’t say such things in the college atmosphere. And I think it was a great moment because when you spark discomfort in people it eventually leads to conversation.”
On opening up a conversation on women’s issues
Bella Cox said, “I would like to take my period poems to classrooms and have young girls and boys write poems about the periods and explore creativity.” She added, “I also want to create a space of empathy so that boys can write about periods because they are never asked to engage. On the reverse women can write poems about what it is like to go through puberty as a boy,” she added.
“Experiences that wouldn’t stay with you for a long time stay with you forever if they are expressed through poems. That’s why poems about women issues are very important in our current social setting,” said Sushruti Tripathi, bringing the session to an end.
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