In the first year of her M.A. in Creative Writing at the Royal Holloway University of London, Imogen Shaw discovered The Adroit Journal. She knew of a few people who had submitted and wanted to check it out for herself. It wasn’t long before she was applying to be the new Feminist Fridays blog writer. “There was a real sense of creative freedom in what you could write about, and what you got to read about,” Shaw says to me over the phone, referring to previous Feminist Friday posts.
Now, she has two posts under her belt, discussing the socialist-feminist archetype of the witch in poet Rebecca Tamás’ WITCH and exploring how the healthcare system treats women as in her review of Blackfishing the IUD, a hybrid-memoir by Caren Beilin. For the former piece, Shaw chose to focus on the witch archetype, knowing that many readers would have some familiarity with it. “You’re letting people’s ability to associate, based on the conceptions that they already have of these powerful archetypes, do the work,” she says. Thus, she was able to go beyond the surface-level fascination with the occult and focus on the political underpinnings of WITCH, largely dealing with the hypothetical implementation of socialism.
This fusion of politics and literature is nothing new for Shaw. The St. Albans, Britain, native works as a political communications professional, work that informs her own writing, particularly her poetry. “It feels like there’s an expansiveness that enables you to say things you can’t say in prose,” she explains. “You pick the issues apart in a very different way.”
This kind of expansiveness is a recurring theme in Shaw’s approach to writing, whether she’s covering anti-vaxxers for UnHerd or breaking down the zeitgeist around the occult for Adroit. From a young age, she was drawn to the way poetry allowed her to break the rules and write freely—though for a while, she lost sight of that. In her own words, her poetry became “lawyerly,” though working in multiple genres wasn’t all bad. “In the other direction, writing poetry has helped me be freer in the structure of my essay-writing,” Shaw adds cheerfully.
It’s not a stretch to suggest that this approach applies to her research, as well. Drawing on everything from Ronald Hutton’s work on the history of witchcraft to poet Hoa Nguyen’s experimental collection Violet Energy Ingots, and even the ever-popular Astro Poets twitter account, Shaw’s engagement with occult poetry went far beyond the realm of poetry itself. For her recent post on Blackfishing the IUD, exposing the ways women’s pain is frequently dismissed by medical professionals, Shaw (as well as Blackfishing’s author) gained insight from support websites for autoimmune diseases—in addition to probing her own struggle for a personal diagnosis. Drawing on such a variety of sources culminates in introspective and inclusive pieces unlike any other literary analysis you’ll find on the web, drawing unique conclusions that hold their own weight. But, even after all this effort, Shaw welcomes disagreement.
“A lot of the things I’m writing about are very liminal,” she explains, “and I think it’s always nice, when you’re writing about things like that, to hear feedback that isn’t positive, that perhaps quibbles in some way, or just sees things from a different perspective.”
In the meantime, Shaw is hard at work on her next post for Feminist Fridays. While she wouldn’t say just what she’s writing about next, she hinted at authors she’d like to cover in the future, such as Emily Berry, Raymond Antrobus, and Tsitsi Dangarembga. Whatever she chooses to discuss, you can be sure Shaw’s Feminist Fridays posts will give you plenty to think about, be it in the realm of the written word, the political arena, or the expansive space beyond.