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Twenty-six poets, one letter each: an alphabet of women

Paula Towers
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Published: 4 March 2022

Last updated: 4 March 2024

Sydney poet Miriam Hechtman tells Paula Towers about the genesis of her unique anthology of female poetry

WHEN SYDNEY POET and writer Miriam Hechtman decided to create an anthology of poetry by female poets, each contributor was assigned a letter with an alliterative focus and invited to “follow their heart”.

“Form is so important in poetry,” Hechtman says. “It gives you boundaries and then the story finds its place.”

Having settled on a framework, Hechtman describes The Alphabet of Women, her first book, as “bringing together 26 eclectic alliterating poets to tell the story of woman through the sounds and cadences of the alphabet, from rage to tenderness, politics to the body, motherhood to daughterhood, vaginas to mother earth.

“The story was open. Poems could be anything related to women/woman but had to use many words with the allocated letter.”

Hechtman says she wanted the collection to include women from different backgrounds, religions, ages, colours, cultures and sexual preferences.” Indeed, the contributors come from across the world including Ireland, Brazil, Sri Lanka, America, England, South Africa, Bosnia, Argentina, New Zealand and Israel.

The Alphabet of Women is being launched next Wednesday, right on the heels of International Women’s Day (March 8) and will feature several of the women performing their work, including Ginette Ball, Jessica Chapnik Kahn, Limor Fayena and Joanne Fedler, as well as Hechtman.

The Jewish Independent

Hechtman, also founder and host of Poetica – a monthly open mic night for poetry and music in Sydney, explains to Plus61Media how the project began in 2018.

“Poetica’s International Women’s Day gathering was that night and I hadn’t written a word. Where to begin with the Patriarchy – the obvious starting point for a rant on all that had wronged woman. Police. Prisons. Patriotism. P. Hmmm. What’s up with the letter P? Nothing like a little sound repetition to get words flowing. ‘Dear letter P’, I began, ‘you have let us down.’ And so began my ode to the letter P. … Now we’ve got Putin to add!” she exclaims.

Following a positive response to her performance, a friend suggested she write and perform the whole alphabet. By 2019 “The Alphabet of Women” title had landed in her notes. “The alphabet is such a good structure; a known structure,” she says, “a way to bookend thoughts and observations but still allow for imagination and innovation to thrive.”

Some poets used the letter at the beginning of the words, as she had with the letter P. Other poets who were assigned vowels wrote shape (concrete) poems and used the sound of their letter inside selected words.

The poet for the last letter – and also performing at the launch – is software engineer and film lecturer Limor Fayena, a Sydneysider who hails from Israel. “Her Layers of Z is a very clever poem,” Hechtman observes. “She’s looked at how the letter Zed and Zayin (the Hebrew version) has been used in language.”

“Because I speak Hebrew, I thought about what would have happened if I received my letter in the Hebrew language,” Fayena says. “In Hebrew, it would carry meaning and so I’ve played with the meanings of the letter and its location in the alphabet.

The seventh letter with the crown,

That’s how they called her all around.

She was dazzling, she was strong,

Jeez. It all went wrong…..

You see,

In ancient Hebrew, killing weapons are named Zayin.

Should have seen it comin’.

The economy of language in creating poetry is what Fayena enjoys most: “What I like about poetry is that you can send a message in a short piece. Unlike a novel or an article, a poem can get to the point fairly quickly,” she says.

Nu, so what’s next for Hechtman? “The Alphabet of Men is in the works and well advanced,” she quips.

“I think what I’m looking forward to most is people hearing the poems aloud,” Hechtman says. “I think it’s a unique book of poetry and I’m hoping the Jewish community will embrace the book and poetry by women.”

The Alphabet of Women will be launched on Wednesday March 9 at 6.30pm at the Bondi Bowling Club. It is a free event and open to the public.

About the author

Paula Towers

Paula Towers is a writer and editor, and has also worked as a political speechwriter and researcher. Currently, Paula is a presenter and producer on the Arts Thursday show at Sydney's Eastside Radio as well as a freelance writer for print publications and a travel web site.

The Jewish Independent acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of Country throughout Australia. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and strive to honour their rich history of storytelling in our work and mission.

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