Home » Issues & Poems » Issue Thirteen » Alisoun’s


Alison Winch

I wrote this sequence while on a Hawthornden Fellowship suffering from relentless morning sickness. Inhabiting this altered state enabled me to take risks with new voices. I was intrigued by Alisoun from Chaucer’s ‘The Miller’s Tale’, not just because she is my namesake, but she is also a fantastically rebellious and visceral character. Of course she is also an object of male fantasy and I hoped to ironise this by contextualising the poem in a history of misogyny from the medieval period, as well as playing with Alisoun’s refusal to keep her body hidden and controlled. The constraints I set myself were ridiculous. Initially the poem began as an acrostic of ‘Alisoun’s Arse’ with the stanzas beginning with each letter of the original title. I also set myself the task of beginning and ending the poem with the word ‘arse’. This changed during editing. My writing process was imagistic. I took words from Chaucer and medieval poetry that I liked, and mixed these with contemporary English. I also used images of the landscape around Hawthornden. Alisoun in this poem is travelling the Via Francigena: a medieval pilgrimage route from Canterbury to Rome, and I used material from that trail. I was driven by way the words/lines/stanzas looked on the page, as well as the images they conjured. In pregnancy I encountered new forms of misogyny, both historical and contemporary. Writing this poem seemed an interesting way to explore the pervasive fears of female sexuality and reproductive power.


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