5 Feminist Poets We all Need To Read Right Now
written by surabhi pandey
In recent years women from all walks of life are reclaiming their voice from their oppressors. With campaigns like #MeToo and #TimesUp gathering momentum, times are changing—in a positive way—and poetry is one among many mediums that women are using to speak up.
I always turn to poetry when I am angered by instances of gender discrimination. Having worked in the Indian media industry for years, I have unfortunately encountered some of the narrowest minds in the workplace and at high profile parties. I moved to Singapore two years ago and have travelled across Southeast Asia only to realize the unrealistic beauty and body standards that women are expected to live up to. Whenever those expectations become overwhelming, I escape to the world of poetry and find solace in powerful words by great poets. Here are some of my all-time favourite poems by feminist poets:
Phenomenal Woman by Maya Angelou
Pretty women wonder where my secret lies
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them
They think I’m telling lies.
It’s in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Maya Angelou has been my hero since I was a child. Her poems make my heart swell with pride for being a woman of colour. Phenomenal Woman was one of my favourites growing up, although In All Ways A Woman and Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise were also close to my heart.
2. Inside My Mother by Ali Cobby Eckermann
my mother is a granite boulder
I can no longer climb nor walk
her weight is a constant reminder
I sit in her shadow
gulls nestle in her eyes
their shadows her epitaph
a pebble of her in my pocket
What can’t I say about Ali Cobby Eckermann? Her work explores racial discrimination and the impacts of colonisation on women and society at large. I am a fan of her timeless work, but one of my favourites is from her recently published book Inside My Mother where she speaks about the strengths of womanhood, from motherhood to family, exploring societal roles and female trauma.
3. The Joyful Miseries by Rosario Castellanos
This place I am, like sand with rivers,
has long known visits from the sky.
A whole procession of birds crosses my face
And I follow ecstatic,
Not feeling the stones that strike me, break me, reject me.
I walk without measuring my strength or step.
Ah, but I shall reach the sea and the sky will fly beyond my grasp…
Considered to be among the most influential feminists from Mexico, Rosario introduced me to the struggles of gender-based violence and what it takes to stand up against such things. Her confrontation of gender oppression gives me the strength to be free as a writer and as a woman. The quote from this poem where she says “I shall reach the sea and the sky will fly beyond my grasp” is even on my wall.
4. Translations by Adrienne Rich
You show me the poems of some woman
my age, or younger
translated from your language
Certain words occur: enemy, oven, sorrow
enough to let me know
she’s a woman of my time
with Love, our subject:
we’ve trained it like ivy to our walls
baked it like bread in our ovens
worn it like lead on our ankles
watched it through binoculars as if
it were a helicopter
bringing food to our famine
or the satellite
of a hostile power…
Adrienne spent her early adulthood in the midst of the feminist rights movement. Her work provocatively shunned perceptions of women’s societal roles, challenged sexual assumptions, and brought the struggle of not only women but also the LGBTQ community, to the forefront. One of my favourite quotes from Adrienne is, “the most notable fact our culture imprints on women is the sense of our limits. The most important thing one woman can do for another is to illuminate and expand her sense of actual possibilities.” The poem stirs my soul and takes me to the intrinsic layers of poetry.
5. It is we sinful women by Kishwar Naheed
It is we sinful women
who are not awed by the grandeur of those who wear gowns
who don’t sell our lives
who don’t bow our heads
who don’t fold our hands together…
Kishwar Naheed once said that “creativity cannot be regulated nor should it be. Who would know this better than a woman writer or artist who has to struggle all her life to be able to express what she feels and thinks, to be able to articulate the way she wishes to articulate, to be able to present to the world what she wishes to present in her own unique way?” I have been an ardent fan of this feminist poet who is rightfully known as the matriarch of culture and resistance.
Who are your favourite feminist poets?