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Women's Poetry: Selections



* Anna Andreevna Akhmatova

Akhmatova Page: excellent site with links to her life and several translated poems. A short Akhmatova biography. Two poems: In Memory of M. B and The First Long Range Artillery Fire on Leningrad.

* Margaret Atwood

Atwood biography; Writing Philosophy--Atwood's wonderfully amusing autobiographical essay on how she became a poet.  Poems:  In the Secular Night; You fit into me (alternate copies: You fit into me (2) or You fit into me (3) or You fit into me (4). Three Atwood poems:  This is a photograph of me; You fit into me; Daguerreotype Taken in Old Age

Atwood poems: This is a Photograph of Me; The Landlady; Variations on the Word Sleep; Variations on the Word Love; A Visit; Habitation.  Variation on the Word Sleep--poem and commentary. Same poem here: Variation on the Word Sleep (2); Siren Song; Nine: Bored (another Bored); A Visit; Song of the FoxSekhmet, the Lion-headed Goddess of War.   Here are five more Atwood poems.

* Elizabeth Bishop

Bishop biography with links to 10 poems (Armadillo, In the Waiting Room, Moose, etc.)

Bishop and the Wordsworth of Lyrical Ballads--scholarly essay

* Audre Lorde

Lorde biography (1); Lorde biography (2) (with poem "Coal"); Lorde biography (3); this Lorde biography (4) includes commentary on her writings; scholarly comments (excerpts) on her poems. Lorde Poems: scroll way down and find The Black Unicorn; Who Said It Was Simple; Never to Dream of Spiders--brief biography also.

More Poems: Litany for Survival; Recreation; When the Saints Come Marching in. Two more poems: Black Mother Woman; Coal; more Lorde poems. See also Selected "new" poems: Making Love to Concrete; Inheritance--His; Electric Slide Boogie.

Several scholarly articles here on Lorde's other writings.

Information on African Goddesses/religion (referred to in Lorde's writings):

Five poems reprinted below: A Woman Speaks; From the House of Yemanja; 125th Street and Abomey; Dahomey; The Women of Dan Dance.

A Woman Speaks

Moon marked and touched by sun

my magic is unwritten

but when the sea turns back

it will leave my shape behind.

I seek no favor

untouched by blood

unrelenting as the curse of love

permanent as my errors

or my pride

I do not mix

love with pity

nor hate with scorn

and if you would know me

look into the entrails of Uranus

where the restless oceans pound.

I do not dwell within my

birth nor my divinities

who am ageless and half-grown

and still seeking

my sisters

witches in Dahomey

wear me inside their coiled cloths

as our mother did


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


I am


and not white.

From the House of Yemanja

My mother had two faces and a frying pan

where she cooked up her daughters

into girls

before she fixed our dinner.

My mother had two faces

and a broken pot

where she hid out a perfect daughter

who was not me

I am the sun and moon and forever hungry

for her eyes.

I bear two women upon my back

one dark and rich and hidden

in the ivory hungers of the other


pale as a witch

yet steady and familiar

brings me bread and terror

in my sleep

her breasts are huge exciting anchors

in the midnight storm.

All this has been


in my mother's bed

time has no sense

I have no brothers

and my sisters are cruel.

Mother I need

mother I need

mother I need your blackness now

as the august earth needs rain.

I am

the sun and moon and forever hungry

the sharpened edge

where day and night shall meet

and not be


125th Street and Abomey

Head bent, walking through snow

I see you Seboulisa

printed inside the back of my head

like marks of the newly wrapped akai

that kept my sleep fruitful in Dahomey

and I poured on the red earth in your honor

those ancient parts of me

most precious and least needed

my well-guarded past

the energy-eating secrets

I surrender to you as libation

mother, illuminate my offering

of old victories

over men over women over my selves

who has never before dared

to whistle into the night

take my fear of being alone

like my warrior sisters

who rode in defense of your queendom

disquised and apart

give the the woman strength

of tongue in this cold season.

Half earth and time splits

us apart

like struck rock.

A piece lives elegant stories

too simply put

while a dream on the edge of summer

of brown rain in nim trees

snail shells from the dooryard

of King Toffah

bring me where my blood moves

Seboulisa mother goddess with one breast

eaten away by worms of sorrow and loss

see me now

your severed daughter

laughing our name into echo

all the world shall remember.


"in spite of the fire's heat

the tongs can fetch it."

It was in Abomey that I felt

the full blood of my fathers' wars

and where I found my mother


standing with outstretched palms hip high

one breast eaten away by worms of sorrow

magic stones resting upon her fingers

dry as a cough.

In the dooryard of the brass workers

four women joined together dying cloth

mock Eshu's iron quiver

standing erect and flamingly familiar

in their dooryard

mute as a porcupine in a forest of lead

In the courtyard of the cloth workers

other brothers and nephews

are stitching bright tapestries

into tales of blood.

Thunder is a woman with braided hair

spelling the fas of Shango

asleep between sacred pythons

that cannot read

nor eat the ritual offerings

of the Asein.

My throat in the panther's lair

is unresisting.

Bearing two drums on my head I speak

whatever language is needed

to sharpen the knives of my tongue

the snake is aware although sleeping

under my blood

since I am a woman whether or not

you are against me

I will braid my hair


in the seasons of rain.

The Women of Dan Dance with

Swords in their Hands to Mark the

Time When They Were Warriors

I did not fall from the sky


nor descend like a plague of locusts

to drink color and strength from the earth

and I do not come like rain

as a tribute or symbol for earth's becoming

dark and open

some times I fall like night


and terrible

only when I must die

in order to rise again.

I do not come like a secret warrior

with an unsheathed sword in my mouth

hidden behind my tongue

slicing my throat to ribbons

of service with a smile

while the blood runs

down and out

through holes in the two sacred mounds

on my chest.

I come like a woman

who I am

spreading out through nights

laughter and promise

and dark heat

warming whatever I touch

that is living



what is already dead.

* Marge Piercy

Short Piercy biography, with good links at bottom of page to other poems. Another Piercy biography(2). Marge Piercy Homepage and Marge Piercy Homepage (2). Piercy Study questions (Heath Guide)

Poems: Unlearning to Not Speak; The Friend (or Unlearning to Not Speak [2]); The Common Living Dirt. Here is Wellfleet Sabbath, plus two other poems. Here is a short interpretation of Wellfleet Sabbath. More poems: The Art of Blessing the Day. Meditation before Reading Torah; The Long Death; Why Marry at all?; 5 more Piercy poems; several Piercy poems/reviews; 8 Piercy poems including For Strong Women (alternate source: For Strong Women [2]). Two more Piercy poems: The Listmaker and A New Constellation.

Below are two Piercy poems: The woman in the ordinary and The Bonsai Tree.

The woman in the ordinary

The woman in the ordinary pudgy downcast girl

is crouching with eyes and muscles clenched.

Round and pebble smooth she effaces herself

under ripples of conversation and debate.

The woman in the block of ivory soap

has massive thighs that neigh,

great breasts that blare and strong arms that trumpet.

The woman of the golden fleece

laughs uproariously from the belly

inside the girl who imitates

a Christmas card virgin with glued hands,

who fishes for herself in other's eyes,

who stoops and creeps to make herself smaller.

In her bottled up is a woman peppery as curry,

a yam of a woman of butter and brass,

compounded of acid and sweet like a pineapple,

like a handgrenade set to explode,

like goldenrod ready to bloom.

The Bonsai Tree

The bonsai tree

in the attractive pot

could have grown eighty feet tall

on the side of a mountain

till split by lightning.

But a gardener

carefully pruned it.

It is nine inches high.

Every day as he

whittles back the branches

It is your nature

to be small and cozy

domestic and weak;

how lucky, little tree,

to have a pot to grow in.

With living creatures

one must begin very early

to dwarf their growth:

the bound feet,

the crippled brain,

the hair in curlers,

the hands you

love to touch.

* Sylvia Plath

Plath biography/links/poems (Daddy, Lady Lazarus, Morning Song, The Stones)--excellent site. Plath biography (2), with internal links to a number of her poems (Daddy, Lady Lazarus, and many others). Scholarly comments on Plath (excerpts) on her poems. A Wind of Such Violence with links to 230 poems.

The Bell Jar--good commentary on the novel.

The Gothic and Contemporary Poetry--gothic themes in Plath's poetry; Sylvia Plath essay--in Postmodern Culture, May 98.

* Adrienne Rich

Short Rich biography/links/poems (Diving into the Wreck, Miracle Ice Cream); Here are 27 Rich poems and scholarly comments on Rich (excerpts).

Two Rich poems: Aunt Jennifer's Tigers and From a Survivor, with links to study questions.

Two poems (2): Aunt Jennifer's Tigers and Diving into the Wreck. Read Snapshots of a Daughter-in-law.

Ideological Reading of Aunt Jennifer's Tigers--text of poem, with commentary.

Rich Poem: from Calle Vision

* Sappho (also Princess Nukata, Japanese "Sappho")

Sappho biography and Poems:--Frankly I wish I were dead; Please come back to me, Gongyla; On the throne of many hues, Immortal Aphrodite; Some an army of horsemen; To Atthis though in Sardis now. Click Example to see several translations of "He is equal to the gods." Sappho Page; Sappho biography and poem.

Another Sappho source (biography, links, poems); more Sappho poems--see the following in particular: Although they are only breath; Cleis; It was you, Atthis, who said; Standing by my bed; We know this much; To put the urn; With his venom; Without warning; You may forget.

Sappho's Choral Music--commentary and alternate translations of a number of her poems.

Princess Nukata, the early Japanese "Sappho"--other early Japanese women writers included also.

Sara Teasdale's Sappho poems--from Rivers to the Sea.

* Ntozake Shange

Shange biography--with some commentary; Shange biography (2)--with many links; Poet-Hero--poem explaining her name (by Shange? about Shange?  unclear).

Shange biography/poem;  here are some Shange poems; more Shange poems; two Shange poems--from For Colored Girls Only. Poem:  Enuf.

Review of Nappy Edges--some comments on her poetic style.

More Shange links and on her drama (scroll down the page to Shange's name).

Below is Shange's moving poem on violence against women:  With No Immediate Cause.

With No Immediate Cause

every 3 minutes a woman is beaten

every five minutes a

woman is raped/every ten minutes

a lil girl is molested

yet i rode the subway today

i sat next to an old man who

may have beaten his old wife

3 minutes ago or 3 days/30 years ago

he might have sodomized his

daughter but i sat there

cuz the young men on the train

might beat some young women

later in the day or tomorrow

i might not shut my door fast

every 3 minutes it happens

some woman's innocence

rushes to her cheeks/pours from her mouth

like the betsy wetsy dolls have been torn

apart/their mouths

menses red & split/every

three minutes a shoulder

is jammed through plaster and the oven door/

chairs push thru the rib cage/hot water or

boiling sperm decorate her body

i rode the subway today

& bought a paper from a

man who might

have held his old lady onto

a hot pressing iron/i don't know

maybe he catches lil girls in the

park & rips open their behinds

with steel rods/i can't decide

what he might have done i only

know every 3 minutes

every 5 minutes every 10 minutes/so

i bought the paper

looking for the announcement

the discovery/of the dismembered

woman's body/the

victims have not all been

identified/today they are

naked and dead/refuse to

testify/one girl out of 10's not

coherent/i took the coffee

& spit it up/i found an

announcement/not the woman's

bloated body in the river/floating

not the child bleeding in the

59th street corridor/not the baby

broken on the floor/

there is some concern

that alleged battered women

might start to murder their

husbands & lovers with no

immediate cause"

i spit up i vomit i am screaming

we all have immediate cause

every 3 minutes

every 5 minutes

every 10 minutes

every day

women's bodies are found

in alleys & bedrooms/at the top of the stairs

before i ride the subway/buy a paper/drink

coffee/i must know/

have you hurt a woman today

did you beat a woman today

throw a child across a room

are the lil girl's panties

in yr pocket

did you hurt a woman today

i have to ask these obscene questions

the authorities require me to


immediate cause

every three minutes

every five minutes

every ten minutes

every day.

*Women of the Beat Generation:

Helen Adam--Apartment on Twin Peaks; very brief background information; The Last Secret; Reluctant Pixie Poole: A Recovery of Helen Adam's San Francisco Years. Poem: I Love My Love--click on Helen Adam's name in the "Index" on my Pre-Raphaelite Women web page.

Diane DiPrima--DiPrima biography/poems; interview with DiPrima; Doctrine of Signatures (scroll down from the biography); DiPrima biography; Rant from a Cool Place; DiPrima biography (2) (has links); Women of the Beat Generation Links; more on Women of Beat Generation.

Jayne Cortez--Jayne Cortez--links to poems and scholarly comments on her poetry. All the Birds Sing Bass: The Revolutionary Blues of Jayne Cortez--Bolden's scholarly article.

Essays about the Beat Generation: Rebel Poets of the 1950s--good concise intro to Beat Poets, San Francisco Renaissance, Black Mountain Poets, and New York School. Margery Perloff Home Page--many essays; How Beat Happened. Ginsberg--excerpts from criticism on Ginsberg's poetry. Comprehensive site here: Beat Generation News--includes women and abstract expressionists. Here is Literary Kicks--many, many links.

* Wu Tsao

Tsao biography/poems.



"The Genealogy of Postmodernism: Contemporary American Poetry"

by Albert Gelpi from The Southern Review, Summer 1990, pp. 517-541



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