Poetry gives voice to the inner lives of its writers and their experiences of the world.
It also gives voice to our own, putting into words things we never knew we needed to say. These 15 must-read feminist poems contain an array of thoughts on gender and identity and are guaranteed to touch, console and inspire you.
1. "Still I Rise," Maya Angelou (poetryfoundation.org)
The woman and the poem are iconic for a reason. Angelou was a feminist and an activist, and her work resonated with millions around the world. "Still I Rise" is a banner feminist poem about sexuality, womanhood, and rising above oppression.
2. "Marrying the Hangman," Margaret Atwood (poetryfoundation.org)
Now well known as the author of "The Handmaid's Tale," Atwood, in fact, wears many hats. "Marrying" is one of her strongest feminist poems, inspired by fact. Once upon a time, condemned prisoners could escape hanging by either becoming the hangman (if you were a man) or by marrying him (if you were a woman). This poem contemplates the nature of prison and also marriage and reminds us, more than once, "This is not fantasy, it is history."
3. "In Honour of That High and Mighty Princess, Queen Elizabeth," Anne Bradstreet (poetryfoundation.org)
Talented and strong-willed, Bradstreet is the first female English-speaking poet ever published, and is America's very first published poet of either gender.
"In Honour of" praises Queen Elizabeth, whom Bradstreet sees as the ideal of a strong, independent woman. By praising a woman who is powerful because of her gender and not in spite of it, this might just be the very first feminist poem.
4. "I Think She Was a She," Leyla Josephine (Feminist Findings)
Josephine's work blends dramatic performance with spoken word poetry. In "I Think," she discusses her experience of having an abortion as a teenager. It includes the refrain, "This is my body. This is my body." It may be the feminist poem to end all feminist poems, espousing agency over body and identity, and a lack of shame about the choices we make.
5. "Progress," Rupi Kaur (twentytwowords.com)
Kaur is a poet and illustrator whose thoughts on womanhood, the female body, and recovering from trauma have made her a voice of her generation. Her feminist poems are characterized by short, direct thoughts on her body and her own life experiences. In "Progress," however, she also meditates on a woman's responsibility to the women of tomorrow.
6. "What They Don't Want You to Know," Amanda Lovelace (theodysseyonline.com)
Lovelace's work often focuses on female empowerment and self-healing. As feminist poem's go, "What they don't want" is short and sharp, and addresses the pre-pubescent girl in all of us: these are the changes your body will go through, and these are the expectations that come with that. The thing "they" don't want you to know is that you, as a woman, have power over those expectations.
7. "Peanut Butter," Eileen Myles (poetryfoundation.org)
Myles, who identifies with the "they" pronoun, is an advocate for queer identities, a political activist and a punk poet known for their frank language and subject matter. In "Peanut Butter," they speak of a summer idyll and sex, of bodies and death, in natural and accepting terms.
8. "All the Good Women Are Gone," Susan Nguyen (diodepoetry.com)
Nguyen's work often deals with the body and with trauma. "All the Good Women" is a powerful journey inside the mind of a woman dealing with an unwanted pregnancy, swamped by the expectations of the world around her. It's about being overwhelmed by how you are told you need to behave, and the cost of trying to live up to that.
9. "Diving Into the Wreck," Adrienne Rich (poets.org)
Rich's work espoused both radical politics and a fervent feminism she expressed through poetry. One of her most famous feminist poems, "Diving" searches beneath the mythology of gender and sexuality, looking for "the thing itself and not the myth." It advocates an agency in exploring one's labels and identity.
10. "Her Kind," Anne Sexton (poets.org)
Sexton has left the world a complicated legacy, focused now more on her mental health issues and the abuse of her children than her work. Still, "Her Kind" is a clever feminist poem that looks at women who don't fit into expected roles, saying "a woman like that is not a woman, quite." It alludes to the cautionary tales about women who are different and therefore dangerous, and proclaims solidarity with them by saying, "I have been her kind."
11. "Backwards," Warsan Shire (poetryfoundation.org)
Shire's poetry examines issues related to sex and gender, among other things. She often uses poetry as a tool to speak across lines and also to heal. In "Backwards," the unnamed narrator consoles a fellow victim of domestic abuse. It is a violent, shocking and also somehow hopeful take on a feminist poem.
12. "Bitch Instinct," Analicia Sotelo (poets.org)
Sotelo's poetry often focuses on physical details and sensations, drawing from them thoughts on relationships, gender and society. In "Bitch Instinct," she examines longing and a woman's hunger for the affection of men, as well as what that seems to make her.
13. "The Woman the Boy Became," Kate Tempest (panmacmillan.com)
Tempest is a rapper and slam poet, a popular performer whose work questions the political norms of gender, class and identity. "The Woman" tells the story of a trans boy's experience, an intersectional feminist poem that speaks to the power of the feminine to overcome violence and oppression.
14. "Masculine," Nayyriah Waheed (skipthesmalltalk.org)
Waheed's poems are known for being short, direct and un-flowery. She deals with issues of racism, gender and emotional honesty. "Masculine" is a feminist poem that looks across the gender divide, at the perceived weakness of a man crying. It grieves for him.
15. "I Sing the Body Electric," Walt Whitman (poetryfoundation.org)
Called, in his time, obscene, Whitman's work blatantly admires the human body. A humanist, he might also be called a feminist, and "I Sing" read as an early male feminist poem. In it, Whitman declares the importance of the body to be on par with that of the soul, celebrating the virtue and even perfection of not only the male but also the female form.
Poetry is a way to talk to the world about how we feel about it, and about our selves. Feminist poems give voice to the inner lives of women. They also act as social critique and even protest of a world that tries so hard to define us.
Heather Adams is a freelance storyteller living in a tiny home on wheels. She writes, takes pictures, consults and collaborates. Read more of her work on her blogs story notes, thick description & the great misc Follow her on Instagram @art.life.story