Ten inspiring poems by female poets

Mark International Women's Day on 8th March 2020 with these inspiring poems from some of our favourite female poets including Carol Ann Duffy, Maya Angelou and Sylvia Plath.

08/08/2020
13 minutes to read

A selection of poems from some of our favourite inspirational women writers, including Carol Ann Duffy, Maya Angelou and Sylvia Plath, covering topics including feminism, immigration, and identity. For more brave, bold and beautiful poems by women, She is Fierce is a collection of 150 poems by diverse voices, from suffragettes to school girls and spoken word stars to civil rights activists. 

If these poems inspire you and spark your imagination, why not take up your pen and get your own creative juices flowing? Poet Kate Clanchy’s How to Grow Your Own Poem is full of poems to inspire, exercises to help you shape your own poems and advice to help you build your own writing practice. Kate believes that the best way to learn is to follow someone else, so whether you’ve never written a poem before, or you want to build your confidence and write more as yourself, she invites you to join in.

'Hotel Art, Barcelona' by Rachel Long

Rachel Long is a poet and the leader of the Octavia Poetry Collective for Womxn of Colour, which was formed in response to the lack of inclusivity and representation in the poetry world. She was shortlisted for Young Poet Laureate for London in 2014 and her work has been featured in The London Magazine, Magma, & Filigree: An Anthology of Contemporary Black British Poetry. Here, she introduces My Darling From the Lions, and the first poem in the collection, 'Hotel Art, Barcelona'.

My Darling from the Lions is a collection of poems about girlhood, home, hair, sex, shame, race, class and Barbie doll men in fast cars.

It’s about desire and disappointment, not getting ‘what was meant to be in the bag’, but ending up with something else, something unexpected but actually kind of beautiful.

‘Hotel Art, Barcelona’ is the first poem in the collection because it is about a time most like a cusp, a state of being all-consumingly in love, holding your breath all the time (remember that?), me neither, not completely (except through this poem, poems often know and remember things better than you do). The poem is both a memorial and a door to understanding oneself, before and after — through the lens of being that in love with someone else.

 

We’re eating roses on a rooftop. The Med beneath us. 

They serve clouds here too, I say.

Light starter? Wink.

 

Are they fluffy or black?

The waiter doesn’t answer.

 

Every table is white except ours.

We sit at a naked woodblock. Antique;

There’s enough of an age gap here,

need they have added 200 years?

 

The razor clams arrive in straight lines.

What’s the matter?

 

We discuss kids. Maybe it’s the wine,

or because my belly is beginning to push

against the bones of my dress. You say,

I don’t think I’ll identify with a brown son.

 

Excuse me, I stand,

spill your sparkling water.

You only notice your steak.

 

Contorting myself three ways in the toilet mirror,

I decide I won’t look like this forever.

I don’t even look like this now.

 

Dessert is air from a porcelain pump.

What if he has your eyes? I dare,

after another glass.

 

Back in our borrowed bathroom, I throw up rose foam, 

a blade of grass. Who says he isn’t a daughter?

 

I join you on the balcony. You hold me from behind, 

lean us over, count . . .

We’re as many storeys up as our age gap.

 

Why do you always have to—

Shhh. You lift my dress. I shoulder-width my legs,

is love not this? – gripping a fence in the sky.



'‘Hope’ is the Thing with Feathers' by Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson spent much of her life in isolation, corresponding with friends almost entirely by letter. Although she was a prolific poet, fewer than a dozen of her poems were published in her lifetime, and it was ony after her death that the breadth of her work became known.  She is now considered a major American poet. 

‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers – 

That perches in the soul – 

And sings the tune without the words – 

And never stops – at all – 

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard – 

And sore must be the storm – 

That could abash the little Bird 

That kept so many warm – 

I’ve heard it in the chillest land – 

And on the strangest Sea – 

Yet, never, in Extremity, 

It asked a crumb – of Me.

Taken from She is Fierce: Brave, Bold and Beautiful Poems by Women 


‘Still I Rise’ by Maya Angelou

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’

Taken from She is Fierce: Brave, Bold and Beautiful Poems by Women

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. 


'Differences of Opinion' by Wendy Cope

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' 


‘Little Red-Cap’ by Carol Ann Duffy

Award-winning Scottish poet, Carol Ann Duffy, was 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.’

Buy The World's Wife


‘Fiere’ by Jackie Kay

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.’ 

Buy Fiere


'What Kind of Times Are These' by Adrienne Rich 

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'


'The Woman the Boy Became' by Kate Tempest

An award-winning rapper, poet, author and playwright, Kate Tempest has 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,
Born strong.
Born wrong.’

Buy Hold Your Own


‘Mathematics’ by Hollie McNish

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'

Buy Plum


'Progress', by Rupi Kaur 

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'


‘Interview’ by Dorothy Parker

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.’
Read ‘Interview’


‘Lady Lazarus’ by Sylvia Plath

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. 

She is Fierce

by Ana Sampson

Book cover for 9781529003154

Anyone seeking a little inspiration should turn to this thoughtful, rousing anthology of poems collected by Ana Sampson. Divided into sections such as ‘Friendship’, ‘Love’ and ‘Freedom, Mindfulness and Joy’, this is an uplifting collection of poems by inspiring women. Maya Angelou, Carol Ann Duffy, Emily Dickinson and Margaret Atwood are just some of the contributors, with many more female writers offering wisdom and countering the patriarchy – all in the form of lyrical, melodious poetry.

Fiere

by Jackie Kay

Book cover for 9780330513371

Jackie Kay’s collection is a lyric counterpart to her memoir, Red Dust Road, the extraordinary story of the search for her Nigerian and Highland birth-parents; but it is also a moving book in its own right, and a deep enquiry into all forms of human friendship.

Hold Your Own

by Kae Tempest

Book cover for 9781447241218

Hold Your Own, Kate Tempest’s first full-length collection for Picador is an ambitious, multi-voiced work based around the mythical figure of Tiresias. This four-part work follows him through his transformations from child, man and woman to blind prophet; through this structure, Tempest holds up a mirror to contemporary life in a direct and provocative way rarely associated with poetry.

Plum

by Hollie McNish

Book cover for 9781509815760

Plum, Hollie McNish's debut for Picador Poetry, is a wise, sometimes rude and piercingly candid account of her memories from childhood to attempted adulthood. This is a book about growing up, about flesh, fruit, friendships, work and play – and the urgent need to find a voice for the poems that will somehow do the whole glorious riot of it justice.

The World's Wife

by Carol Ann Duffy

Book cover for 9781509852666

This unique collection of poems from the Poet Laureate, filled with her characteristic wit, is a feminist classic and a modern take on age-old mythology.

Behind every famous man is a great woman - and from the quick-tongued Mrs Darwin to the lascivious Frau Freud, from the adoring Queen Kong to the long-suffering wife of the Devil himself, each one steps from her counterpart’s shadow to tell her side of the story in this irresistible collection.