10 Feminist Poets Who Will Leave You Stronger Than Before
If you're at all skeptical of your ability to enjoy poetry, I don't blame you. I know I used to be. It's hard not to equate poetry with tough days at school analyzing poems about things that have seemingly nothing to do with us, written by people who died centuries ago and wrote in languages that feel totally foreign. It's a shame how this is often our first impression of poetry. Oh, the ways we could have been healing all this time had we not been so afraid of it.
Because that's what poetry does. It heals. And there is a whole world of contemporary poets out there, putting into words we can understand all the things we've been feeling. Today, poetry is being challenged and subverted by young and achingly feminist voices, here to light a fire in our souls. I'm so glad I gave poetry a chance when I did. The woman I was before I discovered my love for poetry is strikingly different from the woman I am now. She was so much more confused, insecure, and unaware of her power. It's all poetry's fault that I've begun to learn how to hone in on my own strength, especially poetry written by the 10 poets listed here. They have each taught me something only they could have taught me. They have each healed me with their own particular brand of healing. Here is my tribute to them.
Megan Falley is as unflinchingly bold as poetry gets. Known for her presence in the spoken-word scene, her words and delivery of them like arrows to your heart leave their mark on you, never to be erased. Without losing an ounce of ferocity, she's also an ocean of vulnerability. She tells her audience exactly why she is beautiful and why she is flawed, with a feminist fire burning all the way through. It's for those reasons I've fallen maddeningly in love with her. Falley's narrative has taught me to have pride in the sum of my parts. She's also a total wordsmith, and the images she conjures are clear as day. Reading her work will transport you to a funky, gorgeous universe where you feel completely seen.
Her work is known for discussing abuse, addiction, body shaming, and homophobia. She has written two full-length collections (After the Witch Hunt and Redhead and the Slaughter King) as well as a chapbook of poems about Lana Del Rey (Bad Girls, Honey).
I want to live in an honest house
where the motion detector is so sharp
it knows when my thoughts leave the room.
I want a clap-on lamp that works as a polygraph;
when you swear you still love me, the lights flicker.
— excerpt from "The Honest House" by Megan Falley
Warsan Shire's name spread like wildfire once her poetry was featured in Beyoncé's Lemonade, but she was pickaxing away at the truth long before then. With the sharpest thread, she laces together experiences of war, xenophobia, femininity, love, and exile into the most restorative force. Shire pulls voices that have been lost in mayhem to the forefront, retelling their stories with the utmost tenderness, especially those of refugees and immigrants. The most remarkable thing about her work is how it refuses to leave us without hope. Yes, the suffering feels endless, but Shire is here to make sure it is not for nothing. Obviously, Beyoncé agrees with me on this one. What better endorsement is there?
She has written two collections (Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth and Her Blue Body) as well as one chapbook (Our Men Do Not Belong to Us).
Your daughter's face is a small riot,
her hands are a civil war,
a refugee camp behind each ear,
a body littered with ugly things
doesn't she wear
the world well.
— excerpt from "Ugly" by Warsan Shire
I would be hard-pressed to find a poet with a heart more naked than that of L Mathis. An artist blooming from the soil of the internet, they hide nothing from us and expose all their struggles, low points, and moments of clarity for the world. To follow their work is to follow Mathis's growth as a human being as they become more and more aware of their identity. This transparency has made Mathis a guardian angel for thousands of readers looking to understand theirs. Their poetry is concise, direct, and totally accessible, and Mathis updates their Instagram with new work every day. There have been many dark nights in my life that Mathis has gotten me through. Their poetry acts as a how-to guide for shedding the ways we've been taught to have contempt for ourselves.
Bless the crazy femme.
For how much they endure silently.
For the survival game they
play against their heads
every day. For the hurt in them
that wants to swallow the softness.
May they know
comfort in their bodies.
May their heads not win
and the world be theirs.
— "Bless the Crazy Femme" by L Mathis
Trista Mateer is an absolute must read for people with hearts that resemble gaping wounds. If you've ever hopelessly, desperately longed for someone, then her work will strum you like a guitar and turn you into the song you've been looking for. It's a messy song. But when you're missing someone, God knows there's no clean way to go about getting over that feeling. The mess is all we have left of them. Mateer does not shy away from shedding a light on her hunger, and that light makes us feel less alone with ours. She's also a poet who sprung to popularity from the internet. Her poems echo through the Tumblr-sphere for readers all across the world.
I miss you in some wild way.
Some rain smell on the earth kind of way.
Some scratching your name into trees kind of way.
Some scratching my name into you kind of way.
Even this poem is me marking my territory.
Tell me this counts for something.
— excerpt from "Coffee Cups and Fruit Poems" by Trista Mateer
If there's a powerhouse of poetry that hones in on every feeling that could possibly exist, it's Sierra DeMulder. Also famous for slam poetry, DeMulder wraps her voice around her words and hands them over as the most beautifully piercing gifts. There's no human experience too daunting for her to tackle, and there's no one I'd rather have tackle it than her. She has all the empathy needed to write about subjects she has not experienced personally. And when she does perform on her own experiences, the walls in the room shake. She is most notable for her work on sexual violence, a subject that often triggers instead of uplifts. DeMulder's effect empties you of shame, and it is so strengthening it hurts (the way you need it to hurt).
Some days you will feel dirty.
Some weeks you'll remember how hard it is to breathe in public,
but know this:
the person who did this to you is broken. Not you.
The person who did this to you is out there,
choking on the glass of his chest.
It is a windshield
and his heartbeat is a baseball bat:
regret this, regret this.
— excerpt from "Paper Dolls" by Sierra DeMulder
Yesika Salgado is responsible for making "badass" and "poet" completely synonymous. She's a symbol of loving yourself fiercely. She's an unstoppable presence in the slam poetry scene, and the most striking thing about her work is how unabashedly honest it is while containing the power of a warrior. Salgado's strength comes from her willingness to be a voice for our deepest insecurities. We all have days when we feel unworthy of love, and it's hard to admit that. Consequently, it rarely gets talked about. We're too busy pretending our lives are perfect. Salgado irons out all those ugly feelings for us with her signature sexy style of poetry. Her work shows us how to forge the poison of our insecurities into a bulletproof vest so that we can fight back.
Salgado writes about love, heartbreak, sex, body positivity, misogyny, and her Salvadoran community and culture. She has written three collections (The Luna Poems, Woes, and Sentimental Boss B*tch). Her popular Instagram is also regularly updated with new poems.
your cousin, that you still call baby,
who shamed a woman for owning her body
asked you, the last time he was over,
"what were you trying to do with all things you post on Instagram? What's your point?"
you don't remember your answer
but you wish you had pointed at
the girl with her short hair
the one that loves him despite the hurt
and told him:
"I'm trying to show her she doesn't need you"
— excerpt from "Machismo Comes Over For Dinner" by Yesika Salgado
Clementine von Radics
Clementine von Radics wants to protect the little girl living inside of you. There is no poet better at protecting her. She writes of love, heartbreak, abuse, and the idealization of women vs. the reality. More than a masterful literary wizard, her words hold you like the hug you've been needing and remind us that there is nothing more powerful than a girl with a dream. Though you might have decided at some point to set those dreams aside in order to get by in this harsh world, von Radics makes sure you are left with your memory refreshed. She has also made tidal waves in the slam poetry scene, and her performances are always a fiery call to arms.
She has written four collections (Mouthful of Forevers, Dream Girl, Home, and For Teenage Girls With Wild Ambitions and Trembling Hearts).
You are the first drop of a hurricane.
Your bravery builds beyond you. You are needed
by all the little girls still living in secret,
writing oceans made of monsters and
throwing like lightening.
You don't need to grow up to find greatness.
You are stronger than the world has ever believed you to be.
The world laid out before you to set on fire.
All you have to do
— excerpt from "For Teenage Girls With Wild Ambitions and Trembling Hearts" by Clementine von Radics
I think it's very possible that nayyirah waheed is a force of nature and her poems come to us like driftwood washing up on the shore. There's just no other explanation for why they feel so pure. Her poems delve so deep into the essence of womanhood, you'd think she conjured the ghostly voices of every woman who's ever lived to help her write them. They are short, simple, without grammatical inhibitions, and debilitatingly real. They transcend the confines of poetry and seem to exist in a genre of her own creation. Her poems have changed the way I see the world for the better, and I've never looked back. She also regularly updates her Instagram with new gems every day.
i want more "men" falling from their skin.
more water in their eyes.
more tremble in their bodies.
more women in their hearts
on their hands.
more softness in their height.
more honesty in their voice.
more humility in their feet.
— "less" by nayyirah waheed
If you are looking for a poet who will bring the sweet overflowing honey of young love right to your lips, look no further than Fortesa Latifi. She captures the undying quality of young love as though she's at our side, flipping through old photographs with us, remembering. Latifi's poetry takes us on the greatest journey of all: the journey of finding love, losing it, and healing from the loss so that we may have the confidence to risk doing it all over again. While her work doesn't sugarcoat the pain, it makes sure not to dial back on the joy, either. Latifi inspires me to embrace all the possibilities in life and in love despite how terrifying it might be. Really, what's the point of being alive if we don't?
tell me everything and I'll tell you that the story of us
is something that will be told in the dark by a campfire with chocolate
melting between my teeth. they'll ask for a ghost story and I'll tell them
ours. I'll say, he did all that and still tried to say he loved me. I'll say my
hands are still outstretched from all I gave him and they'll say how did
you leave, how did you ever leave. and I'll say history is just another word
for how long I let him walk through the streets with my heart between his teeth.
— excerpt from "Tell Me How You Never Saw Me Coming" by Fortesa Latifi
It's simple: we're lucky to have Andrea Gibson. If you've ever felt like your existence does not matter, you'll want to embroider Gibson's words onto your heart and never let them go. A force to be reckoned with in the slam poetry scene, there is not a person in this world Gibson's poetry fails to care about. They somehow manage to explore the complicated, emotional realms of mental illness, love, gender, sexuality, family, and war without sacrificing a moment of grace. The best way to describe Gibson's voice is "forgiving." They are by all means an activist in everything they write. They fight for those who are marginalized not with aggression, but with the most genuine kindness. Honestly, just thinking about Gibson right now is making me teary-eyed.
The trauma said, "Don't write these poems.
Nobody wants to hear you cry
about the grief inside your bones."
But my bones said, "Tyler Clementi jumped
from the George Washington Bridge
into the Hudson River convinced
he was entirely alone."
My bones said, "Write the poems."
— excerpt from "The Madness Vase" by Andrea Gibson