What’s the purpose of this women-only network set up in 1994?
When set up, SLN focussed on women poets over 40 years of age who were ‘breaking into’ a world previously dominated by men. Without knowing it, we’d hit on the key moment when the art-form of poetry suddenly became a true domain for women, equal alongside male poets.
By the mid-90s the period, lasting into the mid-80s, when only a small minority of women poets were ‘recognised’ in the UK had gone. This revolution is still not always understood and celebrated – it’s one of our aims to promote opportunity, urging women’s ambition to match the new chances.
SLN membership quickly grew to around 300. The name ‘Second Light’, implying vision which comes later in life, was never quite right but it stuck and we’re stuck with it. The majority of members are published poets with a pamphlet or full collection, or aiming for this.
Many women felt that they needed the support and enthusiasm of other women to consolidate the progress already made in the ‘acceptance’ of women writers. Some women had written all their lives but had lost time and self-belief because of other priorities, children, caring roles, paid jobs.
Older women did not normally have the same ‘credibility’ as ‘new young poets’ of either sex and found that readings were not easy to come by. To experience this discrimination, which also applies to publication to some extent, you don’t actually need to be very much over 25! SLN is for young women poets, too, with a category of associate members under 40 who are warmly welcomed.
SLN works on four fronts: publication in our twice-yearly magazine, ARTEMISpoetry or in anthologies; workshops mainly in London with leading women poets as tutors; readings; a venture into low-cost workshops to be done at home, poems then shared with other participants, if desired.
What are our watch-words as an organisation? I would say ‘enthusiasm’ and ‘ambition’. There’s no better time to be a writing woman but some of us are isolated and even out of touch. We celebrate both tradition and experiment in poetry because it’s the poet’s right to choose and, to do so, we need to know what’s going on, get in there and do it. Information’s important and so is ‘sisterhood’.