For centuries, the world’s most embattled social and political movements have expressed themselves in part through poetry—and feminism is no different. The poetry collections below give us a window into the quiet, solitary moments of some of the modern era’s leading feminist voices. By turns fearless, intimate, wry, and laugh-out-loud funny, these collections will strengthen your soul and inspire you to celebrate your own experience.
Milk and Honey, by Rupi Kaur
There has been a resurgence of interest in feminist poetry of late, thanks in part to this gripping collection of poems from newcomer Rupi Kaur. This New York Times bestseller is filled to the brim—not only with Kaur’s vivid prose, but with her own captivating illustrations as well. Her narrative tells of the pain of loss and the elation of triumph, capturing in finely wrought detail the experience of being a young woman in today’s world. Kaur’s collection is sure to be a staple on both nightstands and syllabi for years to come.
The Collected Poems of Audre Lorde, by Audre Lorde
Equal parts rage and tenderness, the work of Audre Lorde defies neat categorization. That fact should come as no surprise, however, since Lorde herself was the very same way. The self-proclaimed “black lesbian mother warrior poet” was uniquely qualified to rail against the racism, sexism, homophobia, and general marginalization that burdened her life until her death from cancer in 1992. This collection of over 300 of her most poignant poems is an essential addition to every feminist’s bookshelf.
The Dream of a Common Language, by Adrienne Rich
With a career that has spanned seven decades, Adrienne Rich may be the most prolific of feminist poets. When she began writing in the 1950s, her work was described as excellent, but a tad on the formal and decorous side (in one instance, Rich herself was described as “a polite copyist of Yeats”). As her life unfolded throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s against the backdrop of The Women’s Movement, her work began to reflect the radical and chaotic brilliance of the time. Published in 1978, The Dream of a Common Language is considered by many to be the quintessential collection of Rich’s work at its most iconic. The poems in this collection are wildly original, showcasing Rich’s willingness to bend the rules of both language and decorum to their breaking point in the service of a fearless exploration of what is means to be a woman, a mother, and a fighter for freedom.
Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth, by Warsan Shire
In 2011, a little-known Somali-born London-based young woman released a collection of poems that set the Internet ablaze. The poet’s popularity has only grown since then, especially since she was featured prominently in Beyonce’s 2016 visual album, Lemonade. It’s easy to see why the Queen Bey is a fan—Warsan Shire’s style of writing cuts straight to the heart. No matter if you’re lucky enough to have never set foot inside a war zone, you will smell the carnage and feel the fear in your veins. If it’s been a while since you’ve fallen in love, your heart will swell in your breast and your fingertips will ache for the person whose name is written on your heart. London’s first Young Poet Laureate’s work reminds us that, come war or terror, oppression or heartbreak—the only true defeat lies in the crushing of the human spirit.
Phenomenal Woman: Four Poems Celebrating Women, by Maya Angelou
There is no greater ode to the experience of womanhood than Maya Angelou’s famous poem, “Phenomenal Woman.” An icon of American literature, Angelou’s words feel especially powerful when they line the page in verse. Her poetry is ripe with the fruit of a lifetime of soul-crushing sorrow and heart-melting joy. Although she didn’t always align perfectly with The Women’s Movement, Angelou was a lifelong warrior against oppression of every kind. When the patriarchy’s got you down, there is no stronger medicine than the poems in this volume. They help us remember that our true ills are hate, fear, and ignorance, and they can only be cured with love, courage, and understanding.
The Collected Poems, by Sylvia Plath
One simply cannot talk about feminist poetry without talking about Sylvia Plath. Plath may be best known for her tragic novel The Bell Jar, but the genius of her poetry is second to none. Published posthumously, The Collected Poems received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1981. Haunting, lyrical, sad—these are words that we think of when Plath’s name comes to mind, and they are apt descriptions for The Collected Poems. However, this volume is also reverent, fiery, and even joyous at times—eschewing the caricature of Plath as one-dimensional tragedy and enabling a celebration of the full range of her humanity.
The World’s Wife, by Carol Ann Duffy
If you’ve never heard of Carol Ann Duffy, your world is about to get bigger. Duffy earned the title of Britain’s Poet Laureate in 2009, and was, somehow, the first woman and the first openly gay poet to grace the position. (Can we say double-win for feminists everywhere?) As is befitting of a laureate, Duffy’s entire oeuvre is mind-bogglingly good—but The World’s Wife is a particular darling of fans and critics alike. The most probable reason for this is that it is hilarious. Through poetry, Duffy reimagines the narratives of classic tales from a woman’s decidedly non-passive point-of-view. From Penelope to Mrs. Quasimodo to Queen Herod, these women all have something to say, and it’s usually something that makes you laugh out loud. Duffy takes up the battle cry of feminists everywhere—that women are not just the world’s wives (and mothers, and daughters, and sisters, and best supporting actresses). We are human beings who are living our own stories—whether or not they fit into the patriarchy’s storyline.
What are your favorite feminist poetry collections?