Think poetry is all about clouds and men in frilly shirts? Think again.
Despite the classics you remember studying in school or the tear-stained letters you might have received from a lovesick ex, poetry doesn’t have to be boring, trite or inaccessible. Poetry is the ideal medium for the rebels; it can be anything you want it to be. Women have been writing poetry for years; Emily Dickinson and Sylvia Plath shaped the literary world with their ground-breaking poems, but in recent years there has been a massive surge of reinvention in poetry led by women that have been reclaiming their narratives through this most subversive medium.
Here are just a few of the most prominent and a taster of their work!
Warsan Shire’s name has come to the attention of the public eye recently thanks to her role as lyricist for Beyoncé’s breath-taking visual essay album Lemonade. That’s right, this poet comes recommended from Queen Bey herself. It’s a timely reminder that poetry can be found everywhere, though Warsan Shire’s writing is far from ordinary. This Somali-British poet was the first Young Poet Laureate for London at 25, and her poetry unashamedly explores her identity as a migrant and as a woman of colour. Her poetry is brave, honest, powerful and empowering; it hits you in the gut.
and you tried to change didn’t you?
closed your mouth more
tried to be softer
less volatile, less awake
but even when sleeping you could feel
him travelling away from you in his dreams
so what did you want to do, love
split his head open?
you can’t make homes out of human beings
someone should have already told you that
and if he wants to leave
then let him leave
you are terrifying
and strange and beautiful
something not everyone knows how to love.
Extract from: For Women Who Are Difficult To Love
Based in Toronto, Canada and born in Punjab, India, Rupi Kaur is a thoroughly feminist poet. She began her writing career online, using Instagram and Tumblr to share her work, which included visual essays and photo-essays breaking taboos on topics such as menstruation. Poetry is just one of the ways she uses to express herself, also performing, drawing and creating art across different mediums. She has self-published her collected works in her book Milk and Honey, which has now sold over half a million copies. Some older, more traditional poets dislike Rupi Kaur’s radical approach (she doesn’t even use capital letters as they don’t exist in the Gurmukhi script of written Punjabi), but like the true badass she is, she doesn’t care.
no books have
the spine to
women of colour
Carol Ann Duffy
If you have even a passing interest of contemporary poetry, or if you’ve studied English Literature at any level in the past eight years or so, you’ve probably heard of Carol Ann Duffy. The current Poet Laureate is noteworthy for being the first woman, the first Scot and the first openly LGBT honoured with the position. Her poetry may be award winning and endorsed by the Queen, but it remains refreshingly relatable and satisfyingly earthy. Sensual, funny, melancholy, pithy and downright rude, there’s a Carol Ann Duffy poem to suit every occasion. Her collection The World’s Wife is particularly fascinating, as it examines famous real and legendary characters from the untold perspective of the women involved, from Queen Kong to Shakespeare’s wife Anne Hathaway, and the eyebrow-raising Frau Freud, which contains no less than thirty synonyms for penis. What more could you want from your poetry?
I’m not the first or the last
to stand on a hillock,
watching the man she married
prove to the world
he’s a total, utter, absolute, Grade A pillock.
Words: Heidi Teague