5 Powerful Poems to Read for Women’s History Month

Posted on March 7, 2019

by April S

Women have a way with words. They deal with a lot. Yes, I know – that’s the understatement of the century. So, it’s no surprise that poetry by women speaks to us all. It’s filled with passion, emotion and incredibly eloquent words. During Women’s History Month and beyond, let’s explore poetry by women poets – new, old and everything in between.

Poems & Poetry Collections by Women Poets

1. “B” or “If I Should Have a Daughter” by Sarah Kay

This poem spoke to me even before I became a mother. Sarah Kay’s TED Talk is powerful and inspiring on so many levels. Sarah Kay is a poet best known for her spoken word poetry. She is also the founder/co-director of Project Voice, which has worked with schools around the world.

Read the poem “B” on the Poem Hunter website, watch the video below or check it out from the Library.

B / by Sarah Kay ; illustrated by Sophia Janowitz
An ode to motherhood. A whimsical love letter, a shared promise, a thank you note, and a whispered secret to mothers and daughters everywhere. The perfect gift, “B” celebrates the bond that exists between a parent and a child. Short, touching, and lovingly illustrated, it is a family tradition waiting to begin.

“If I Should Have a Daughter” – TED video featuring spoken word poet Sarah Kay

2. “And Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou was (and still is, because her work lives on) one of the greatest poets of our time. Her poem “And Still I Rise” is one of those poems that resonates with so many of us – it’s inspiring, uplifting, and powerful. After you hear her read it you imagine anything is possible. Even in the face of seemingly insurmountable adversity, there is hope (always).

Read the poem “And Still I Rise” on the Poetry Foundation website, watch the video below or check out Maya Angelou’s poetry from the Library.

In this inspiring poem, Maya Angelou celebrates the courage of the human spirit over the harshest of obstacles. An ode to the power that resides in us all to overcome the most difficult circumstances, this poem is truly an inspiration and affirmation of the faith that restores and nourishes the soul. Entwined with the vivid paintings of Diego Rivera, the renowned Mexican artist, Angelou’s words paint a portrait of the amazing human spirit, its quiet dignity, and pools of strength and courage.
Still I Rise by Maya Angelou, art by Diego Rivera

“And Still I Rise” – poem written by and read by Maya Angelou

3. “Diving Into the Wreck” by Adrienne Rich

Part of a collection of poems, “Diving Into the Wreck: Poems 1971-1972” won the National Book Award for Poetry in 1974. The title poem is an incredibly powerful and inspiring work of poetry. Rich was a strong feminist voice who used her work to speak out about social justice issues during a turbulent and tumultuous time (early 1970s). The poem takes the reader on an emotional journey, but it also includes a lot of amazing imagery that transports you into another world.

‘Diving into the Wreck’ is one of those rare books that force you to decide not just what you think of it, but what you think about yourself. It is a book that takes risks, and forces the reader to take them also. . . . You feel about her best images, her best myths, that nobody else writes quite like this. ~ Margaret Atwood

Read the poem “Diving into the Wreck” on the Academy of American Poets website or check out Adrienne Rich’s poetry from the Library.

Selected poems, 1950-2012 / Adrienne Rich ; edited by Albert Gelpi, Barbara Charlesworth Gelpi, and Brett C. Millier
Adrienne Rich was the singular voice of her generation, bringing discussions of gender, race, and class to the forefront of poetical discourse. This generous selection from all nineteen of Rich’s published poetry volumes encompasses her best-known work—the clear-sighted and passionate feminist poems of the 1970s, including “Diving into the Wreck,” “Planetarium,” and “The Phenomenology of Anger”—and offers the full range of her evolution as a poet. From poems leading up to her feminist breakthrough through bold later work such as “North American Time” and “Calle Visión,” Selected Poems celebrates Rich’s prophetic vision as well as the inventiveness that shaped her enduring art.

Adrienne Rich reads her poem “Diving into the Wreck.”

4. “I, Being Born a Woman and Distressed (Sonnet XLI)” by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Millay was one of the most respected poets of the 20th century. She was well known for her passionate public poetry readings. What I love about her story is that she was a strong woman raised by an equally strong and independent woman. Her mother raised three daughters on her own, encouraging them to be ambitious and self-sufficient. From an early age, her mother fostered an appreciation for music and literature urging Millay to enter one of her poems into a contest in 1912, which lead her to win acclaim early on and a scholarship to Vassar College.

Millay won the Pulitzer Prize in 1923 for “The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver.” The poem, “I, Being a Woman and Distressed” was included in this collection. It is notable for the fact that it would have been a controversial piece of work in the early 1920s. A woman talking about her sexuality didn’t fit neatly into the social norms of the time. During her lifetime, Edna St. Vincent Millay was well known for her feminist activism. Almost 100 years later, her work is still widely read and cited as being influential and notable by respected poets around the world.

Read the poem “I, Being a Woman and Distressed” on the Academy of American Poets website or check out Edna St. Vincent Millay’s poetry from the Library.

Praised by poets and critics ranging from A. E. Housman and Thomas Hardy to Edmund Wilson, Edna St. Vincent Millay’s bold, exquisite poems take their place among the enduring verse of the twentieth century. Claiming a lyric tradition stretching back to Sappho and Catullus and making it very much her own, Millay won over her contemporaries—and readers ever since—with her passion, erotic candor, formal elegance, and often mischievous wit.
Edna St. Vincent Millay : select poems edited by J.D. McClatchy

5. “A Woman Speaks” by Audre Lorde

Audre Lorde is notable for a lot of reasons. During her career, she often referred to herself as a “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet.” Lorde was a feminist, civil rights activist, poet, novelist, and essayist who tackled tough topics like racism, sexism, classism and homophobia. And did you know she worked as a librarian? She also wrote about her struggles with breast cancer in “The Cancer Journals,” which is well worth checking out.

Read this incredible poem on the Poetry Foundation website or check out Audre Lorde’s poetry from the Library.

“The Black Unicorn” is a collection of poems by a woman who, Adrienne Rich writes, “for the complexity of her vision, for her moral courage and the catalytic passion of her language, has already become, for many an indispensable poet.”
The Black Unicorn : Poems by Audre Lorde

More Poetry Books to Explore

Teaching my mother how to give birth / Warsan Shire
Bone / Yrsa Daley-Ward
Corazón / Yesika Salgado
Heart Talk : Poetic Wisdom for a Better Life by Cleo Wade
No Matter the Wreckage : Poems by Sarah Kay
Courage : daring poems for gutsy girls / edited by Karen Finneyfrock, Rachel McKibbens, and Mindy Nettifee
Poisoned apples : poems for you, my pretty / Christine Heppermann
Depression & other magic tricks / poems by Sabrina Benaim
The Complete poetry / Maya Angelou
Hard times require furious dancing : new poems / by Alice Walker ; foreword and illustrations by Shiloh McCloud
The crown ain't worth much / Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib
How lovely the ruins : inspirational poems and words for difficult times / foreword by Elizabeth Alexander

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