A selection of poems from some of our favourite inspirational women writers, including Carol Ann Duffy, Maya Angelou and Sylvia Plath, covering topics from feminism to immigration, identity and more.
The incredibly prolific and inspiring American poet, author of seven autobiographies, actress, civil-rights activist, producer and director passed away in 2014, leaving behind a huge volume of work celebrating black beauty, the strength of women, and the human spirit. In 2017 her life was celebrated in the documentary Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise, which featured interviews with Oprah Winfrey, Hilary Clinton, Quincy Jones and Maya Angelou herself.
’You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.’
Read ‘Still I Rise’
Hear Serena Williams read Maya Angelou’s 'Still I Rise' in the video below, recorded before Serena won the 2016 Wimbledon Women’s Tennis final and in the process, her 22nd Grand Slam, equalling Steffi Graf’s all time record.
A true national treasure and one of Britain's most accessible and beloved poets, Wendy Cope’s poetry is perhaps best known for its humour. There is, however, a feminist element to her poetry and a political engagement that often goes unrecognised.
'The planet goes on being round'
Read 'Differences of Opinion'
Award-winning Scottish poet, Carol Ann Duffy, is the first woman and the first openly gay poet to be appointed Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom. While her poetry often has a strong feminist edge, The World’s Wife in particular is a feminist classic, in which Duffy gives voice to the wives of famous historical and fictional heroes.
‘Out of the forest I come with my flowers, singing, all alone.’
Read ‘Little Red-Cap’
Buy The World's Wife
Scottish National Poet Jackie Kay’s poetry collection Fiere is the story of the search for her Nigerian and Highland birth parents and a deep enquiry into all forms of human friendship. Infused with both Scots and Igbo speech, it is also a fascinating account of the formation of a self-identity.
‘Oor hair it micht be silver noo,
oor walk a wee bit doddery,
but we’ve had a whirl and a blast, girl,
thru the cauld blast winter, thru spring, summer.’
One of America’s foremost public intellectuals. Widely read and hugely influential, Rich’s career spanned seven decades. A lesbian and a radical feminist, Rich devoted her life’s work to investigating the relationship between poetry and politics.
'Because you still listen, because in times like these
to have you listen at all, it’s necessary
to talk about trees.'
Read 'What Kind of Times Are These'
An award-winning rapper, poet, author and playwright, Kate Tempest made a name for herself through her intense and urgent live performances. Her poetry holds up a mirror to contemporary life in a voice like no other.
‘You could tell she wasn’t from
The same place as the rest,
Listen to 'The Woman the Boy Became' below:
Buy Hold Your Own
Wise, rude, sharp, and totally unique, Hollie McNish’s poetry encompasses her personal experiences from girlhood to motherhood and friendship to football, all of which are covered in her 2017 collection, Plum. Her performances have been watched by millions on YouTube and she’s been described as the most important spoken-word artist of her generation.
'And when I meet these paper claims
That one of every new that came
Takes away ones daily wage
I desperately want to scream
Your maths is stuck in primary'
Addressing themes of feminism, body-image, violence and her experience of being a first-generation immigrant, Rupi Kaur began publishing her poetry and illustration on Instagram when she was in her early twenties. Her debut collection Milk and Honey went on to be a New York Times best-seller when it was published in 2014. Rupi Kaur's new poetry collection, The Sun and her Flowers is published in October 2017.
'our work should equip,
the next generation of women'
A celebrated poet, short story writer, critic, and an Oscar-nominated screenwriter, Dorothy Parker’s biting wit made her a legend, but it also masked her struggle with depression. Her poetry exposes both the dazzle and the darkness of the decadent 1920s and 1930s in New York.
‘The ladies men admire, I’ve heard,
Would shudder at a wicked word.’
Despite only publishing one collection of poems in her lifetime, Sylvia Plath is one of the defining voices in twentieth-century poetry.
‘Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
And I eat men like air.’
Read ‘Lady Lazarus’
If you're looking for further inspiration and to immerse yourself in more new poetry, watch our Book Break episode celebrating new poetry, including Kate Tempest's Running Upon the Wires and She is Fierce, a collection bold, beautiful and brave poems by women.