Q&A with Monika Radojevic

Monika Radojevic is a poet, editor, artist and political campaigner. Her interdisciplinary background is united by her advocation for women’s rights and equality. Monika’s debut poetry collection, Teeth in the Back of My Neck (2021), is a confronting interrogation of the intersectionality of the female experience in modern Britain. The collection presents an essential and intimate exploration of the intricacies of identification: from gender to race relations, politics to prejudice and ancestry to anger.

Photo: Susan Dale

How would you describe your debut collection, Teeth in the Back of My Neck, to someone who is unfamiliar with your work?

I'd describe it as a collection of snapshots about power imbalances, injustices and womanhood. It's a poetry collection that details some very personal stories of my upbringing and my childhood, but those are interwoven with political poems about poverty, porn, climate change, or racism. I try to take seemingly innocuous things, like DNA testing kits, and contextualise it to the time we're living in, and my own experiences. 

The collection is divided into two sections - ‘The Teeth’ and ‘The Neck’. Can you share some insights into the thinking behind this structure? What are the distinctions between the two sections?

So the idea was to divide the poems into the external (the teeth) and the internal (the neck), to represent the impact of the external injustices on the internal psyche. Imagine prey trapped between the jaws of a lion – we are all unfortunately held captive by violence against women, or institutional racism and misogyny, or the lingering colonialism running rampant in the UK right now, but I also had my own experiences and feelings I wanted to express. I needed to find a way to separate the two whilst keeping them connected - I guess it's my own structuring of 'the personal is political'. 

Is it accurate to say that the collection provides a space for the mediation of the female experience, as well as your own identification as a mixed-race woman in modern Britain? If so, what is the importance of this to you and your work?

Yes, I think that's accurate, though I use the term mixed-heritage, as I'm not quite sure if mixed-race is accurate. It was deeply important to me at the time because I wasn't seeing much of my story reflected in the literature and culture around me. I needed a space to talk about a particular, peculiar kind of grief, to really unpick the betrayal of Brexit for all of us with immigrant families, to talk about the microtraumas of existing as a woman, as an ethnically ambiguous woman, as a woman with chronic pain, as a woman with Latin American heritage. Within all of that, I tried to pull out the universal feelings - of identity, belonging, yearning, and of rage and grief, and express that in ways that might make sense to people who also don't see their experiences represented. You don't have to look or sound like me to resonate with my work - at least, that's what I'm telling myself!  

Do you view your poetry as a form of activism? Or, more broadly, what are your views on the growing intersection between the literary and the political?

Yes I do, although I say that with caution, because there is tremendous privilege in writing a poem and putting it out into the world knowing there are no consequences to you and your family. It's not anywhere near the same as the dedication and activism of persecuted writers. There has always been that strong intersection - often paved by Black women writers - and what's happening now, I think, is a bit of a rediscovery and reconnection with that, as we all suffer the shock to the system that has been the last twelve to fifteen years of growing political extremism, sharpened inequality and economic downturn. I think we're all searching for purpose and hope after some really hard years, so it doesn't surprise me that this intersection between the literary and political has once again exploded in popularity. 

As you currently work for the Women’s Equality Party (WEP), what made you turn to the form of poetry? Do you feel poetry provides something existing political platforms do not?

So, poetry and politics have always intersected for me. I've written since I was very young...but I studied Politics for both my degrees and it felt like the right path for me rather than English Literature. What really allowed me to combine the two was winning the Merky Books New Writers' Prize when I was 23. I was in that classic student headspace of critiquing every single system of oppression, whilst also questioning my own identity in my writing. The poem that won me the prize and changed the trajectory of my writing career - and life - is a poem about DNA testing kits and identity politics. There is so much that is political, that we can often struggle to express it in the 'correct' or 'acceptable' way. Poetry removes those barriers because it lets you concentrate on how you feel - and the politics is right behind it. Working for a feminist political party has certainly helped shape my poetry and has given me a unique perspective on the topics I write about. Politics, like poetry, is about storytelling, so I find the two blend together without me even really noticing, and I'm grateful for that. My role in WEP also helped shape a project I launched in March [2022] called Feminist Invoicing – which encourages people to 'invoice' systems of power for what they have lost, or feel like they are owed. These ‘submissions’ - usually in the form of a poem - are then shared with the community to spark discussions about deeply political topics - from toxic fatherhood to violence against women. Poetry can often act as a gateway to exploring some fiercely political and difficult topics, so in that sense it provides something essential that typical political platforms don't. 

Article by Maya Barber

Buy Teeth in the Back of My Neck by Monika Radojevic 


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