The Fifty Project was developed in my final year of university and grew out of a conversation I had in my kitchen with my fellow undergrads at Lucy Cavendish College. Fifty Poems is an online poetry resource that captures fifty poems, written by fifty female poets and read by voices across the whole College community – including staff, students, fellows and alumnae.
As English students, we were used to reading poetry on the page, but we wanted to create a resource that would allow people to engage with poetry as a spoken form – one that was more accessible.
We were aware of the proportionally small number of female poets taught as part of the syllabus, and as members of Lucy Cavendish College (the only women’s college in Europe exclusively for students over 21) it seemed fitting that we focused on celebrating the work of female poets.
The process of compiling a list of poems for consideration was long, sometimes frustrating, but ultimately good fun. Although we restricted ourselves to poems written in English, we tried hard to make the collection representative. We took recommendations from other students, and included some poems that would be instantly familiar, but we also wanted to find some unfamiliar poems. The poems cover a wide range of themes: sex, death, nature, faith, family life, race, gender, and, sometimes, men (although not as often as you might think). The evenings sat around the kitchen table furiously searching out new poets, writing to agents and begging publishers to generously allow us to use their work, gave me my first insight into what I might expect from the world of publishing.
This project was not without its difficulties and disappointments; many of our favourite poems and poets could not be included simply because we couldn’t obtain permission to use them. Nevertheless, I think you will discover an eclectic mix of poems and will, hopefully, discover a new poet whose work you enjoy; I thoroughly recommend Justina Kehinde’s ‘On Beauty’.
Seeing the finished project online after such a lengthy process of researching, emailing and recording was hugely exciting. Every time we found a new poet we had not heard of, received permission to use a poet’s work or gained a new volunteer to record with we felt a feeling of success –these are the small triumphs I hope to recreate in whichever career I find myself in.
You can find the full list of poems online here