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.”
5. Amy Gerstler
Gerstler has written a million books and has appeared in the New Yorker and Paris Review too many times to count on one hand—but the hype is totally warranted. Feel like escaping your present? Read Dearest Creature or Ghost Girl— poems written from the perspective of dogs and witches that will totally transport you into the mind of another.
6. Ana Carrete
Carrete is a poet of the Tumblr age, and it’s awesome. In her book baby babe, poems like “dumb puppy face,” “baby i want to high-five you forever,” and “i just like one song by blink 182” are hilarious, bizarre, and probably nothing you would expect from a book of poems (hint: it doesn’t take itself seriously at all).
7. Louise Mathias
I love Mathias’ work because it’s brief, but it’s rich with symbolism and meaning and all the stuff that good poems are made of. Living in Joshua Tree, she’s kind of the lone cowgirl of the poetry world (at least to me). Read: The Traps.
8. Allison Benis White
Allison White was one of my poetry professors during my undergrad—in fact, she was the one who encouraged me to apply to MFA programs to get my master’s degree in creative writing. I remember in class when she read, she was so, so quiet. But her work was loud and powerful. Her debut novel, Self-Portrait With Crayon, spells out the relationship she had with her absent mother, and her latest book, Small Porcelain Head, delves unflinchingly into the topic of suicide.
9. Megan Falley
Falley, who is a performance poet, really knows how to dig at your soul; she just gets it. I read her book, After the Witch Hunt, constantly. It’s my feminist anthem, and my go-to when I need reassurance. Falley writes about body image, relationships, pregnancy scares, the “I” section of her iTunes collection, closure, and way more.
10. Evie Shockley
Evie Shockley is an experimental poet who plays with lowercase words, structure, and form. You know those poems in the shapes of guns and hearts? Well, Shockley uses those kinds of tricks, too. But they’re genuine! And cool! Poems about race, fairy tales defined by skin color and what it means to be a woman define Shockley’s aesthetic and her unique voice. Above all, she’s a poet who will really make you think. Read: the new black.
11. Maggie Nelson
If you’re looking for something meditative, Maggie Nelson has written an entire book of poems that focus on the color blue and its many properties and connotations. When you think of “blue,” often times you think of sadness and mourning, and you’re not far off at all. Read: Bluets.
12. Daphne Gottlieb
Aggressive is one way to describe Daphne Gottlieb’s work, and I mean that in a good way. This San Francisco poet is all about the sexuality conversation, and raising awareness about violence against women. Read: Final Girl.
13. Marilyn Chin
Marilyn Chin was my first MFA professor. The first day of school, she walked into class wearing these gigantic platform flip-flops, a denim mini-skirt, and a feather boa. Her poetry is just as unexpected. She tackles her Chinese heritage, integrating mythology and themes of love throughout. Chin is the poet you definitely need to be reading to accompany that World Lit 101 syllabus. Well, any syllabus, really. Read: Hard Love Province.
14. Karyna McGlynn
I picked up I Have to Go Back to 1994 and Kill a Girl because I thought, “Whoa. These poems. Are intense.” This book is about killing; it’s about killing your past, to be exact. McGlynn’s work is the kind you want to be reading if you’re ready to shed your skin and start over. Or if you’re ready to finally let go of something that has been eating at you for a long time.
15. Lauren Zuniga
Queer mama and incredible performance poet, Lauren Zuniga writes talkative poems about politics, gardens, coming out, and the kind of stuff that is totally capable of making you cry. Or, at least, make you reformulate everything you’ve known about poetry. Read: The Smell of Good Mud.