Poems with a feminist slant?
March 23, 2012 12:39 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for poetry with a feminist leaning and/or covering a certain set of topics.

I'd like to read poems or collections of poetry that invoke feminism and also poetry that covers the following topics:

love from a lesbian view

Bonus points if it is readable online or has a Kindle version as my town library is small and even using ILL I don't seem to have many options.

Do you have a favourite poem or saying that covers these topics?
posted by kanata to Writing & Language (30 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Have you ever read any Anne Sexton?
posted by erst at 12:43 PM on March 23, 2012

Mary Oliver mostly writes about nature, but sometimes her life experiences color her poetry (she is a lesbian, and appears to have survived abuse). The poem that immediately comes to mind is The Journey, but there may be others that fit your list. She writes some wonderful poems.
posted by ldthomps at 12:45 PM on March 23, 2012

Marge Piercy would fit the bill. The Moon Is Always Female is a particular favorite book.
posted by SisterHavana at 12:48 PM on March 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, I'm new to the world of poetry so assume I know nothing and if there are basic canon that everyone seems to have read I wouldn't mind that pointed out either.
posted by kanata at 12:48 PM on March 23, 2012

"Loba"" by Diane di Prima
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 12:48 PM on March 23, 2012

You want to read everything Marilyn Hacker has ever written, most especially Love, Death, and the Changing of Seasons.
posted by jesourie at 12:49 PM on March 23, 2012

The World's Wife by Carol Ann Duffy replays history from the perspective of often-overlooked women, such as Penelope, Mrs. Sisyphus, etc.

As well, a lot of Anne Sexton's work is feminist.
posted by hepta at 12:52 PM on March 23, 2012

Two very different poets, but both potentially up your alley: Adrienne Rich and Sylvia Plath.
posted by scody at 12:54 PM on March 23, 2012

Coming in to nth Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath, Adrienne Rich, Mary Oliver, adding in some Nikki Giovanni, Joy Harjo, and absolutely Sharon Olds.
posted by anya32 at 1:05 PM on March 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

Honor Moore comes to mind, also Muriel Rukeyser, feminist but not lesbian. May Sarton is another.
posted by mermayd at 1:22 PM on March 23, 2012

Judy Grahn's "A Woman Is Talking to Death"
posted by spunweb at 1:24 PM on March 23, 2012

She's a treasured friend of mine, so I'm clearly biased, but I am consistently blown away by the work of Daphne Gottlieb.
posted by mollymayhem at 1:28 PM on March 23, 2012

There's also:
Adelaide Crapsey
Wislawa Szymborska
Gary Margolis ("Did you bring me anything?" is about a dad/teacher talking about students confiding to him about rape)
Marie Howe
Lucille Clifton
Louise Gluck
Lisa Suhair Majaj
Becky Thompson (she has a new book out)
Sapphire (she wrote the novel Push, which Prescious is based on. Her poem "Some different kinda Poems" is heart-breaking.)
Gwendolyn Brooks
Adrienne Rich
Alison Townsend
Joy Harjo

The Livejournal community theysaid is great for queer, feminist poetry, as is the Split This Rock! listserv
posted by spunweb at 1:34 PM on March 23, 2012

love from a lesbian view


Also, Audre Lord.
posted by mattbucher at 1:35 PM on March 23, 2012

Reading Stealing the Language by Alicia Ostriker for a nice history of American women's poetry, as well as details on poems and poets who deal with all the topics you've discussed. Also n-thing all the great poets already mentioned!
posted by araisingirl at 2:40 PM on March 23, 2012

Was just poking my head in to recommend Audre Lorde, which I see has been done--so a seconding then.

As mattbucher notes, her work deals with love from a lesbian view, but she's also written work dealing with rape, abuse, racism, and sexism.
posted by johnofjack at 3:00 PM on March 23, 2012

Elizabeth Bishop
Edna St. Vincent Millay
Anna Akhmatova
posted by oxfordcomma at 3:25 PM on March 23, 2012

I like Imtiaz Dharker; several of her poems are on the website. Artwork, too.
posted by Corvid at 3:29 PM on March 23, 2012

Chrystos, Cherrie Moraga, Gloria Anzaldua, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, Pat Parker, June Jordan...
posted by sea change at 3:42 PM on March 23, 2012

Alice Notley (she's got poems mentioning menstruation, sexism in academia, The Descent of Alette). Sharon Olds, Larissa Szporluk, Audre Lord, Ai, Brenda Shaughnessy, Noelle Kocot all come to mind too.
posted by ifjuly at 3:45 PM on March 23, 2012

Adrienne Rich writes explicitly about lesbianism.
posted by ifjuly at 3:46 PM on March 23, 2012

Oh, and Diane Wakoski.
posted by ifjuly at 3:47 PM on March 23, 2012

Oh, and she isn't usually explicitly feminist, but Kim Addonizio writes from a woman's perspective usually, and sometimes about sex work IIRC.
posted by ifjuly at 4:07 PM on March 23, 2012

G'ah, keep remembering in spurts. Jackie Kay is a Scottish poet who writes about the experience of being an adopted black woman.
posted by ifjuly at 4:09 PM on March 23, 2012

Oh, I see you want excerpts/examples. Some...

Wakoski's "The Water Element Song for Sylvia"


you don't know what love is
Kim Addonizio

but you know how to raise it in me
like a dead girl winched up from a river. How to
wash off the sludge, the stench of our past.
How to start clean. This love even sits up
and blinks; amazed, she takes a few shaky steps.
Any day now she'll try to eat solid food. She'll want
to get into a fast car, one low to the ground, and drive
to some cinderblock shithole in the desert
where she can drink and get sick and then
dance in nothing but her underwear. You know
where she's headed, you know she'll wake up
with an ache she can't locate and no money
and a terrible thirst. So to hell
with your warm hands sliding inside my shirt
and your tongue down my throat
like an oxygen tube. Cover me
in black plastic. Let the mourners through.


Notley's "Point of Fidelity" (warning: old/dead self-link)


Hanging Fire
Audre Lorde

I am fourteen
and my skin has betrayed me
the boy I cannot live without
still sucks his thumb
in secret
how come my knees are
always so ashy
what if I die
before morning
and momma's in the bedroom
with the door closed.

I have to learn how to dance
in time for the next party
my room is too small for me
suppose I die before graduation
they will sing sad melodies
but finally
tell the truth about me
There is nothing I want to do
and too much
that has to be done
and momma's in the bedroom
with the door closed.

Nobody even stops to think
about my side of it
I should have been on Math Team
my marks were better than his
why do I have to be
the one
wearing braces
I have nothing to wear tomorrow
will I live long enough
to grow up
and momma's in the bedroom
with the door closed


Nothing but Color

I didn't write Etsuko,
I sliced her open.
She was carmine inside
like a sea bass
and empty.
No viscera, nothing but color.
I love you like that, boy.
I pull the kimono down around your shoulders
and kiss you.
Then you let it fall open.
Each time, I cut you a little
and when you leave, I take the piece,
broil it, dip it in ginger sauce
and eat it. It burns my mouth so.
You laugh, holding me belly-down
with your body.
So much hurting to get to this moment,
when I'm beneath you,
wanting it to go on and to end.

At midnight you say see you tonight
and I answer there won't be any tonight,
but you just smile, swing your sweater
over your head and tie the sleeves around your neck.
I hear you whistling long after you disappear
down the subway steps,
as I walk back home, my whole body tingling.
I undress
and put the bronze sword on my desk
beside the crumpled sheet of rice paper.
I smooth it open
and read its single sentence:
I meant to do it.
No. It should be common and feminine
like I can't go on sharing him,
or something to imply that.
Or the truth:
that I saw in myself
the five signs of the decay of the angel
and you were holding on, watching and free,
that I decided to go out
with the pungent odor
of this cold and consuming passion in my nose: death.
Now, I've said it. That vulgar word
that drags us down to the worms, sightless, predestined.
Goddamn you, boy.
Nothing I said mattered to you;
that bullshit about Etsuko or about killing myself.
I tear the note, then burn it.
The alarm clock goes off. 5:45 A.M.
I take the sword and walk into the garden.
I look up. The sun, the moon,
two round teeth rock together
and the light of one chews up the other.
I stab myself in the belly,
wait, then stab myself again. Again.
It's snowing. I'll turn to ice,
but I'll burn anyone who touches me.
I start pulling my guts out,
those red silk cords,
spiraling skyward,
and I'm climbing them
past the moon and the sun,
past darkness
into white.
I mean to live.


and I can't believe I forgot Lucille Clifton, whoops.

miss rosie
Lucille Clifton

when I watch you
wrapped up like garbage
sitting, surrounded by the smell
of too old potato peels
when I watch you
in your old man's shoes
with the little toe cut out
sitting, waiting for your mind
like next week's grocery
I say
when I watch you
you wet brown bag of a woman
who used to be the best looking gal in Georgia
used to be called the Georgia Rose
I stand up
through your destruction
I stand up


Lucille Clifton

turning into my own
turning on in
to my own self
at last
turning out of the
white cage, turning out of the
lady cage
turning at last
on a stem like a black fruit
in my own season
at last


lucille clifton

for mama

remember this.
she is standing by
the furnace.
the coals
glisten like rubies.
her hand is crying.
her hand is clutching
a sheaf of papers.
she gives them up.
they burn
jewels into jewels.
her eyes are animals.
each hank of her hair
is a serpent's obedient
she will never recover.
remember. there is nothing
you will not bear
for this woman's sake.


Homage to My Hips
Lucille Clifton

these hips are big hips
they need space to
move around in.
they don't fit into little
petty places. these hips
are free hips.
they don't like to be held back.
these hips have never been enslaved,
they go where they want to go
they do what they want to do.
these hips are mighty hips.
these hips are magic hips.
i have known them
to put a spell on a man and
spin him like a top!


also, Erin Elizabeth Smith is great (full disclosure: she edited some of my work a long time ago). I wish I could find her "Love Letter to Myself" online--it is wonderful.
posted by ifjuly at 4:19 PM on March 23, 2012

And there's an anthology of writing about domestic abuse called Women in the Trees that, IIRC, included poetry about surviving it and escaping it, etc.
posted by ifjuly at 4:21 PM on March 23, 2012

I swear I will stop adding more after this one, promise. Clifton reminded me, Toi Derricotte is pretty good too.
posted by ifjuly at 4:24 PM on March 23, 2012

God, I lied. Ntozake Shange.
posted by ifjuly at 4:25 PM on March 23, 2012

ifjuly, you have great taste in poetry. Here's the Sapphire poem I mentioned.

Some Different Kinda Books

She asks why we always
read books about black people.
(I spare her the news she is black.)
She wants something different.
Her own book is written in pencil.
She painstakingly goes back & corrects
the misspelled words.
We write each day.
Each day the words look like
a retarded hand from Mars
wrote them.
Each day she asks me how
do you spell: didn’t, tomorrow, done
husband, son, learning, went, gone . . .
I can’t think of all the words she can’t spell.
It’s easier to think of what she can spell:
I am sorry I was out teacher.
My husband was sick.
You know I never miss school.
In that other program
I wasn’t learning nothing.
Here, I’m learning so I come.
What’s wrong with my husband?
I don’t know. He’s in the hospital. He’s real sick
I was almost out the room
when I hear the nurse ask him,
Do you do drugs?
He say yes.
I say what!
I don’t know nuthin’ ’bout no drugs.
I’m going off in the hospital.
He’s sick.
I’m mad.
Nobody tells you nuthin’!
I didn’t hear that nurse
I wouldn’t know
Condoms? No, teacher.
He’s my husband.
I never been with another man.

I think he got AIDS
he still don’t tell me.
I did teacher. I tried
to read the chart at the hospital
but I couldn’t figure out those words.
Doctor don’t say, he say privacy.
The nurse tell me.
She’s Puerto Rican. She say your husband
got AIDS.
I go off in the hospital.
Nobody tells me nuthin’.
He come home.
He say it’s not true,
he’s fine.
He’s so skinny without his clothes
he try to hide hisself nekkid
don’t want me to look.
I say you got to use
one of those things.
He say nuthin’s wrong.
with him.

He stop sayin’ that.
Now he just say he’s gonna die
all the time
all the time
I say STOP that talk,
the doctor say you could
live a long time
my sister-in-law say,
he got it so you got it
it’s like that.
I say, I don’t got it,
my kids don’t got it either.
Teacher, I need a letter for welfare
that I’m coming to school
on a regular basis.

He’s in P.R.,
before that he started messing around
Over the Christmas holidays
he died.
That’s where I was at
in P.R.
I’m fine. Yeah, I’m sure teacher.
What do I wanna do teacher?
I just wanna read some different
kinda books.
posted by spunweb at 11:50 PM on March 23, 2012

Margaret Atwood.

You fit into me
like a hook into an eye

a fish hook
an open eye
posted by feral_goldfish at 8:41 AM on April 29, 2012

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