POEMS from I Was That Woman

I Was That Woman [Extract - first stanza]

At the very beginning of creation
I was dormant, potential, Pandora’s box,
a package deal for Adam,
a surprise birthday present
with a time-bomb ticking inside.
He opened me with wonder,
he tasted me with delight.
I was that woman, ashamed and resentful,
wise yet weak, bold but blushing,
with lowered eyes I walked away from Eden
without a backward glance, smouldering.
The first rebel, I was the mother of Cain,
and was punished with pain and servitude.
I was that woman, pure and radiant,
abducted by a demon across the sea;
banished but dutiful, I bore twin kings,
till exhausted at last I cried for the earth.
I was that woman outraged by a hundred,
my modesty a never-ending sari,
while righteous husbands watched in silence,
the handling of their property, the strangling of their pride.

Copyright © Debjani Chatterjee
Notes to the poem
The woman ‘abducted by a demon’ was Sita, heroine of The Ramayana, daughter of the Earth and mother of the twins Lav and Kush.
The ‘woman outraged by a hundred’ was Draupadi, heroine of The Mahabharata. Her ‘never-ending sari’ refers to a miracle when Krishna rescued her modesty.
The woman who ‘pestered the Compassionate One’ was the Buddha’s aunt who begged him to allow women to become nuns.
Mahavir (‘the Great Hero’) is regarded as the greatest teacher of Jainism. Jainism was founded in the 6th Century B.C. in revolt against the ritualism of Hinduism at that time. Jains are extremely respectful of all life (ahimsa) and will not kill even the smallest insect.

Debjani Chatterjee’s poem is in her collection: I Was That Woman (Hippopotamus Press, Frome, 1989). It is also included in a bilingual collection Cette Femme La / I Was That Woman, translated by Professor Isabel Schwarz-Gastine (L’Harmattan, Paris, 2000); in an Indian edition from Writers Workshop Press, Kolkata, 1997; and in Namaskar: New & Selected Poems (Redbeck Press, 2004).
Debjani Chatterjee wrote this as a 19-year-old at the University of Kent at Canterbury, soon after arriving in the UK from Morocco. Some critics consider this her most influential poem. Nissim Ezekiel, the first to publish it when he was Poetry Editor at The Illustrated Weekly of India, called it one of his favourite poems in the magazine. This was after it had been rejected by several literary and feminist magazines in the UK for being 'too obscure'.


Lowest Common Denominator

Lord, you told us: ‘Go forth and multiply.’
Did you think you could manipulate us?
 But we are contrary creatures:
 We’ve been dividing ever since.
You reckoned without us calculators.

Copyright © Debjani Chatterjee
Debjani Chatterjee’s poem is taken from her collections: I Was That Woman (Hippopotamus Press, Frome, 1989), and Namaskar: New & Selected Poems (Redbeck Press, 2004).


POEMS from Do You Hear the Storm Sing?


Today I blew up the Northern General - again;
bulldozed the waiting room in Hell
where I had sat all morning in a silly gown;
I strangled the arrogant GP who knew so little
but pretended to know it all;
my itching hands throttled the oncologists:
the indifferent one who swanned off on holiday,
forgetful of referring me for a Hickman Line
under anaesthesia at a half-decent hospital,
and the one who lost my consent form and thrust me
into a nightmare place of endless screams;
I fought the boffin butcher who drilled holes in me; 
and finally I exterminated
every homicidal side-kick masquerading
as an angel of mercy...
All these things and more I did today.

Copyright © Debjani Chatterjee



Soccer legend Mia Hamm
Never really gave a damn
for the critics who proclaim
women cannot play this game.

Copyright © Debjani Chatterjee
American footballer Mia Hamm played in four women’s World Cup finals and scored more international goals (158) than any other footballer - male or female. 


POEM from Albino Gecko


In the elephant
orchestra, don't expect to
blow your own trumpet.

If you belittle
the elephant, prepare for
jumbo to squash you.


POEMS from Words Spit & Splinter


Born into exile,
We were conceived among stars.
Earth is our refuge.



I caught IBC
as easy as ABC,
but don’t know from where.

*IBC is Inflammatory Breast Cancer



Kimono-clad girl,
You light a butterfly kiss
On my gladdened eyes.

Copyright © Debjani Chatterjee