There was once a fictional character named John Keating who said, “We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race.” I read poetry. I read a lot of it. And I write it too, because it makes me feel a part of something tremendous and beautiful and tender. A lot of the time I’m inspired by poetry collections that have resonated with me, that have made me feel something intangible and close. A lot of those collections are by women. Strong women who have been through economy-sized portions of terrible and then some. Women who battle against depression, low self-esteem, violence, racism, love in its ugliest forms. Women who have rocky relationships with their parents, or siblings. Or women who love things so much, they don’t know what to do with that love. So they write.
In high school and college, we’re taught John Donne. And Walt Whitman. And Edgar Allen Poe. And Shakespeare. And all those other white men part of the Western literary canon. They were interesting dudes, I’m sure. But don’t forget about the women who are writing right NOW. Here are 15 women writing the gutsiest, coolest, and most awesome poetry you really should check out.
1. Stevie Edwards
Stevie Edwards, author of Good Grief, writes poems about her family, Michigan, relationships, and that sinking feeling you get when your fridge and bank account are empty. Her poems are honest, and raw, and fearlessly in-your-face.
2. Lizzie Harris
Harris, who wrote Stop Wanting and edits the magazine Bodega, isn’t afraid of pushing metaphors and expressing sometimes painful emotions. Poems like “Swan Princess, 1994” describe the kind of relationship she had with her father—it’s a succinct, moving reminder that family is never simple.
3. Andrea Gibson
Gibson, an LGBTQ poet, activist, and performer, is amazingly funny, and has released a plethora of books as well as an album. Gibson is the fairy god-poet we all wish we had. In “Anything,” Gibson writes, “You never wish on shooting stars. You wish on the ones that have the courage to shine where they are.” Read: The Madness Vase.
4. Arisa White
Hurrah’s Nest, White’s debut collection of poems, is a hurricane of perfectly curated poems that allow you to glimpse into her unedited childhood. She writes about her mom’s drug-use and boyfriends, her handicapped sister, and the social politics of black hair, asserting, “They couldn’t make sense of me, my classmates / with their gender-proper hairstyles.”