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Poetry is perhaps one of the most personal forms of art, as it allows writers the ultimate freedom to express their creativity.

This might be why it has been a favorite of social activists looking to speak out and inspire change. The feminist movements have been no exception, with talents such as Maya Angelou and Sylvia Plath using their pens to offer deep reflections and pose thought-provoking questions to their readers.

The Best Feminist Poems

These 14 poems offer reflections on the female experience and the strength of women.

1. “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou

“Still I Rise” was written by the iconic Maya Angelou in 1978. It champions womanhood, sexuality, and rising above oppression, as we can see in this excerpt:

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
’Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

You can read the full poem here, or enjoy the video below, featuring tennis champion Serena Williams reciting Angelou’s famous poem.

2. “Lady Lazarus” by Sylvia Plath

“Lady Lazarus” was written by Sylvia Plath in the fall of 1962. In it, she references two near-death experiences from her youth—one a swimming accident, the other an attempted suicide.

Many of Plath’s poems describe her lifelong struggles with depression, but can also be analyzed through a feminist lens.

In the case of “Lady Lazarus,” Plath could be illustrating the female artist’s struggle for autonomy in a male-dominated world.

In the final stanzas, she predicts a third brush with death, out of which she will rise like a phoenix:

Herr God, Herr Lucifer
Beware
Beware.

Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
And I eat men like air.

You can read the full poem here.

3. “In Honour of That High and Mighty Princess, Queen Elizabeth,” by Anne Bradstreet

In Honour of That High and Mighty Princess, Queen Elizabeth” was written by Anne Bradstreet, the first female English-speaking poet to be published.

The poem praises England’s Queen Elizabeth, whom she sees as the ideal of a strong, independent woman, as evidenced in this excerpt:

Although great Queen, thou now in silence lie,
Yet thy loud Herald Fame, doth to the sky
Thy wondrous worth proclaim, in every clime,
And so has vow’d, whilst there is world or time.
So great’s thy glory, and thine excellence,
The sound thereof raps every human sense
That men account it no impiety
To say thou wert a fleshly Deity.

4. “Marrying the Hangman” by Margaret Atwood

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Photo from Wikimiedia by ActuaLitté

The Handmaid’s Tale author Margaret Atwood mixes feminism with a history lesson in “Marrying the Hangman.”

She starts the poem by explaining an old law that allowed condemned prisoners to avoid execution by becoming a hangman (if the prisoner was a man) or marrying him (if the prisoner was a woman):

She has been condemned to death by hanging. A man
may escape this death by becoming the hangman, a
woman by marrying the hangman. But at the present
time there is no hangman; thus there is no escape.
There is only a death, indefinitely postponed. This is
not fantasy, it is history.

Toward the end of the poem, Atwood brings us back to the present, portraying the hangman as a modern husband.

The hangman is not such a bad fellow. Afterwards he
goes to the refrigerator and cleans up the leftovers,
though he does not wipe up what he accidentally
spills. He wants only the simple things: a chair,
someone to pull off his shoes, someone to watch him
while he talks, with admiration and fear, gratitude if
possible, someone in whom to plunge himself for rest
and renewal.

5. “What They Don’t Want You to Know” by Amanda Lovelace

This poem is from Lovelace’s collection, The Princess Saves Herself in This One. This poem may be short, offers an important reminder to young girls amidst the confusion of puberty and society’s expectations: “the world begins & ends when you say so.”

Check out the full poem here.

6. “A Woman Speaks” by Audre Lorde

In “A Woman Speaks,” Audre Lorde explores the inconsistencies in how black women are viewed and treated, as well as her own struggle to define her identity on her own terms.

I have been woman
for a long time
beware my smile
I am treacherous with old magic   
and the noon’s new fury
with all your wide futures   
promised
I am
woman
and not white.

7. “Her Kind” by Anne Sexton

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Photo from Poets.org

Known for her highly personal verses, Anne Sexton honors the women who don’t quite fit into society’s molds in “Her Kind.”

I have gone out, a possessed witch,
haunting the black air, braver at night;
dreaming evil, I have done my hitch
over the plain houses, light by light:
lonely thing, twelve-fingered, out of mind.
A woman like that is not a woman, quite.
I have been her kind.

8. “Phenomenal Woman” by Maya Angelou

In “Phenomenal Woman,” Maya Angelou explains what makes her a powerful woman, even if it isn’t what society deems “pretty.”

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.
I say,
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
Phenomenally.

9. “Fire” by Nikita Gill

Fire” by Nikita Gill might just be the pep talk to end all pep talks, reminding women that when someone tries to take advantage of us, we must “show them what hell looks like when it wears the skin of a gentle human.”

10. “We Sinful Women” by Kishwar Naheed

Kishwar Naheed is an award-winning feminist poet from Pakistan. In “We Sinful Women,” she describes women who are resistant to society’s expectations.

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.

11. “Diving Into the Wreck” by Adrienne Rich

In “Diving Into the Wreck,” Adrienne Rich explores gender and sexuality, advocating the freedom of one to explore labels and identity on their own terms.

the thing I came for:
the wreck and not the story of the wreck
the thing itself and not the myth
the drowned face always staring
toward the sun
the evidence of damage
worn by salt and sway into this threadbare beauty
the ribs of the disaster
curving their assertion
among the tentative haunters.

12. “I Sing the Body Electric” by Walt Whitman

Considered obscene in his own day, Walt Whitman’s “I Sing the Body Electric” celebrates the human body, with praise for both men and women, leading some to call him one of the earliest male feminists.

Here’s an excerpt:

Be not ashamed women, your privilege encloses the rest, and is the exit of the rest,
You are the gates of the body, and you are the gates of the soul.

The female contains all qualities and tempers them,
She is in her place and moves with perfect balance,
She is all things duly veil’d, she is both passive and active,
She is to conceive daughters as well as sons, and sons as well as daughters.

13. “I Am a Nasty Woman” by Nina Donovan, Read by Ashley Judd

“I Am a Nasty Woman” was written by Nina Donovan and recited by actress Ashley Judd at the 2017 Women’s March.

The phrase “nasty woman” is a reference to the way then-candidate Donald Trump described his opponent, Hillary Clinton, on the campaign trail in 2016.

14. “What’s the Greatest Lesson a Woman Should Learn?” by Rupi Kaur

Rupi Kaur is a 27-year-old Indian-born Canadian poet whose words and illustrations have captured the attention of young poetry readers, especially on social media.

In this poem, she reminds women of the strength they already have within them.

What’s the greatest lesson a woman should learn?

That since day one, she’s already had everything
she needs within herself. it’s the world that
convinced her she did not.

Who Is the Most Famous Female Poet?

Though it’s difficult to measure fame, one might consider Maya Angelou to be the most famous female and celebrated poet of the last century, alongside many of her talented contemporaries, such as Sylvia Plath and Audre Lorde.

Angelou was not only a poet, but also a memoirist and civil rights activist. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

Reading and Writing Great Poetry

To appreciate the best poetry, it helps to helps to have an understanding of the basics, and to familiarize yourself with common symbols from literature. Ultimately, however, reading poetry is a very personal experience, and each poem can have different meanings for different readers.

If you’re feeling inspired, why not try writing yourself? Check out our guide to writing a poem so you can finally get those ideas on paper.

Do you have a favorite feminist poem or work of literature? Share it with us in the comments below!

 

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