30 Poetry Collections By Women That Will Keep You Motivated To Resist
In the months since Donald Trump has become president, more and more people have become inspired to join the Resistance. Bustle's 31 Days of Reading Resistance takes a look at the role of literature and writing in the Resistance, both as a source of inspiration and as a tool for action.
Over six months out from this year’s epic Women’s March on Washington (and other sister marches that took place all over the United States and the world) women’s leadership in the resistance is as important as it’s ever been. But while all those woman-power vibes probably stayed with you for weeks after the march, without regular support from your sisters-in-protest it can be hard to always stay motivated to resist. (Especially when the headlines grow more unbelievable and government leadership increasingly dangerous, by the day.) And that’s why you should check out these poetry collections written by women — perfect for keeping you inspired, motivated, empowered, and resisting, no matter what craziness Washington might throw your way.
Poetry has been a part of protest for practically as long as people have: giving voice to marginalized, repressed, threatened, and otherwise silenced voices throughout history. Because while we can’t always be marching in the streets, we can continue to resist injustice, corruption, misogyny, racism, and tyranny by sharing our stories; leaving space for the stories of others; and reading the powerful voices of women who came, saw, and resisted before us.
From East New York, to the South Side of Chicago, to the olive groves of Palestine, Aja Monet’s My Mother Was a Freedom Fighter tells stories of mothers, daughters, and all women working against racism, sexism, genocide, and displacement, while giving way to quieter, but equally human experiences of heartbreak, grief, and love.
By braiding official court testimonials from the Trayvon Martin trial and audio recordings from Sandra Bland’s police stop with her own poetic musings on race, language, witnessing, and remembrance, Simone John brings attention to staggering racism and gender discrimination in her debut documentary poetry collection, Testify.
Giving voice to all sorts of things women think but don’t say, experience but don’t document, Olena Kalytiak Davis’ The Poem She Didn’t Write and Other Poems is a collection of sharp and moving feminist poetry; about love and loss, sexual violence and apathy, and what it’s like to age as a woman in a world that discounts the voices of older women.
Though garnering less attention, one of the biggest challenges facing our lives today is climate change and the destruction of the natural world — and Camille T. Dungy’s poetry collection, Smith Blue, portrays humanity as both the antagonist and the antagonized when it comes to the environment, drawing attention to the damaging environmental effects of modern living as well as humans’ own vulnerability to nature.
Marge Piercy has dedicated her life to poetic activism, adding essential work to not only poetry, but the feminist literary cannon as well. The Moon is Always Female is considered one of Piercy’s most feminist works: raw, angry, beautiful, funny, mystical, and totally inspiring.
Winner of the 2016 Yale Series of Younger Poets prize, Airea D. Matthews’s Simulacra takes a provocative stance against modern privilege, power, and desire; exploring the ways we communicate (and don’t) with one another in an age of hyper-media. This is a must-read for anyone trying to survive the Twitter presidency.
The girls and women in Erika Meitner’s poems are as in danger as they are dangerous, as at-risk as they are risqué, startling and startled by their own coming-of-age. Filled with fierce, sassy, and strong female voices, Makeshift Instructions for Vigilant Girls explores girlhood, womanhood, and old-age reflections on life as a woman in our crazy, sometimes-creepy world.
Revisiting the murder of Emmett Till, chronicling the history of violence inflicted upon black males, sharing the grief of the mothers who lose sons, and detailing the systemic nature of racism in America, Incendiary Art by Patricia Smith is a necessary voice of resistance and witness to the race-based violence that still permeates our modern world.
Winner of the 2015 Forward Poetry Prize, Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric blends poetry, prose, and photography to share a striking, angry, powerful, and eye-opening story about racism and the murdering of black bodies in the United States. This collection with both anger you and call you to action.
Another collection taking on the devastation of climate change, Rebecca Dunham’s Cold Pastoral examines the man-made and/or human-influenced natural disasters of our time: the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, Hurricane Katrina and its devastating aftermath, and the Flint water crisis. Dunham’s writing is edgy, powerful, and transformative, as she blends interviews and excerpts from government documents with pastoral poetic traditions.
Jill McDonough’s Reaper will take you on a haunting journey through the world’s past, present, and future, playing with time and space, and offering a glimpse into a future of human and environmental devastation; highlighting our growing dependence on technology, as well as America’s expanding drone program, which is destroying lives and landscapes around the world.
You might have noticed the asterisk that often accompanies Trump’s name — essentially indicating “he's President… sort of.” Funny, big-hearted, and just a little bit scary, Jena Osman’s An Essay in Asterisks offers similarly consciousness-awakening asterisks, challenging the politics and ethics of modern-day America, and making you rethink all the tiny, mindless acts that tend to consume your daily life.
Katharine Towers’ The Remedies is yet another call to action to save our environment before it leaves us hanging out to dry — or drowns us in melting ice caps, etc. Exploring the fragile human relationship with the natural world, Towers acknowledges that humans are often at fault for meddling with natural rhythms and cycles of the environment, while also emphasizing that is it is us who will come to an end if we destroy our environment, rather than the earth itself.
Taking you to the oft-assaulted territory of the U.S./Mexico border, Natalie Scenters-Zapico’s The Verging Cities travels to to El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, challenging immigration politics and policies in both countries and critiquing the two governments failing to consider the individual lives most-affected by national and international decisions.
Incorporating words and phrases from the Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms alongside her poetry, Solmaz Sharif’s debut collection, Look, is startling and thought-provoking as it explores the ways humans go to war today: against other countries and ourselves, against language and general civility.
The 1985 Pulitzer Prize-winning collection Yin, by Carolyn Kizer, is angry and fierce, infused with feminist politics and ideals, and bearing witness to the injustices women have historically faced — and still face — in every day American life.
The much-beloved Milk and Honey, by Rupi Kaur, has had quite a journey — from self-published title to debut bestseller. Focused on themes of struggle and survival, Milk and Honey takes a feminist stance against issues of abuse, violence, loss, love, and more.
Directed by Desire is a collection of poetry by June Jordan — feminist, activist, writer, and educator, Jordan dedicated her life to writing poetry that would shake up the status quo and raise voices that were otherwise left unheard. This collection gathers together the best of more than ten of Jordan’s published volumes, and will definitely keep you in protest poetry for a while (600 pages-worth.)
Morgan Parker’s There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé is infused with politics and pop culture, personal poetry and political calls to action. Parker challenges the status quo and the mis-marketing of modern feminism, critiquing everything from media and politics, to capitalism and over-consumption, to the systemic racism and sexism throughout American society.
A slim and powerful collection, We Carry the Sky by Mckayla Robbin is filled with short-form poetry that is both vulnerable and fierce, intimate and inspiring; centering around themes of feminism and femininity, identity, racism, violence, and survival.
Carol Ann Duffy was the first woman and the first openly gay poet to be named Britain’s Poet Laureate, and her collection, The World’s Wife, is a mindful and hilarious re-imagining of classic myths fairy tales from the perspective of the women who traditionally exist only in the background. A battle cry for feminists everywhere, this collection will remind you that we women live our own stories — whether or not they fit into the patriarchy’s telling.
Adrienne Rich was known for both her radical poetry and her radical feminism, and her collection, The Fact of a Doorframe features some of her very best work. Writing on political and feminist themes, describing experiences of motherhood and lesbianism, Rich’s writing is as sorrowful as it is powerful and in-your-face.
Written by poet Wanda Coleman, Mercurochrome is a collection of poetry that speaks out against racism, economic and social injustices, and America’s systemic, institutionalized violence against minority communities. In language that is vivid, unflinching, and at times painful, Coleman’s poems will rub you raw and inspire you to action.
Written for the Millennial woman — or any feminist looking to get inside the Millennial mind — Carrie Murphy’s poetry takes you through the aisles of Target and into the bathroom for some selfie-taking, exploring insecurities about motherhood and the pressures to justify your job/income/lifestyle/everything because you’re a woman.
Sarah Jean Grimm’s debut collection, Soft Focus, was the winner of the 2016 Metatron Prize and uses ethereal, angry, raw, and spare language to explore things like social media pressures, internet culture, relationships, the human body, American Exceptionalism, femininity, and feminism, and more.
Another Camille T. Dungy collection to make this list, Trophic Cascade will make you think deeply about environmental degradation and disaster, and the legacy today’s humans are leaving the generations of tomorrow. Dungy’s poems speak to survival and resilience, new life and death, nature and power, and the roles of both fragility and endurance in the world.
Lessons on Expulsion is Erika L. Sánchez’s debut poetry collection, telling a story about what it is like to live not only on the U.S./Mexico border, but to live on the social, cultural, economic, and linguistic borders that exist throughout the country. As the daughter of undocumented Mexican immigrants, Sánchez uses her poetry to navigate sex, shame, race, violence, xenophobia, and also art, faith, love, and possibility.
Layli Long Soldier is a member of the Oglala Lakota nation and a winner of the 2016 Whiting Writers’ Award for poetry. Whereas confronts the violence, injustices, responses, treaties, and apologies of the United States government to the Native American peoples it decimated, isolated, and now bulldozes in the name of capitalism. As infuriating as it is powerful, Whereas explores the ways language can be both essential and manipulated, reclaiming the words used by the U.S. government to dominate and devastate.
Audre Lorde’s Our Dead Behind Us is one of her strongest call-to-action collections of poetry — protesting systemic violence and androcentrism, defending feminism, describing female sexuality in all forms, working against racist and sexist norms, and more. Our Dead Behind Us challenges you to think about your role as an oppressor of others and of yourself, the inherent prejudices you hold that you might not even be aware of, and the ways the liberation of every single individual is critical to the liberation of all.
You can’t talk about feminist poetry without talking about Sylvia Plath, so to round out this list of poetic powerhouses is her book, The Collected Poems — one of the most comprehensive collections of her work. The only downside is that Ted Hughes edited this particular edition, and he’s already long overstayed his welcome on the page, as far as Plath and her writing are concerned, IMO.
Follow along all month long for more Reading Resistance book recommendations.