Poetry in general and feminist poetry, in particular, has received a major boost in visibility during the last few years thanks to social media. From Rupi Kaur’s Instagram fame to Warsan Shire’s popularity on BookTube, it seems that poetry is back in a big way and more popular than ever among young people.
My foray into the world of feminist poetry began only recently and it has given me much food for thought–about what makes a good poem and why certain poets go viral while others (equally or even more talented) are relegated to relative anonymity.
Here’s my take on three popular collections of feminist poetry.
Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth by Warsan Shire
This pamphlet explores “the veiled world where sensuality lives in the dominant narrative of Islam.” Shire’s poems are often disturbing, sometimes shocking, and always deeply evocative. Imagery is her strength and her poems brought to mind a series of vivid colors, textures, and flavors as I listened to them.
To my daughter I will say,
‘When the men come, set yourself on fire.’
Shire reads the audiobook version of this collection herself and I love her delivery. It’s understated; her poems don’t need embellishment to engage the imagination.
Verdict: Buy the audiobook.
Why God Is a Woman by Nin Andrews
This collection of prose poems tells the story of an unnamed male narrator who was born and raised on an island where women are the dominant sex. On this island, men are valued for their domesticity, sex appeal, and sexual purity, grow wings when they reach puberty (a bloody process likened to first menstruation) and are subjected to the sort of everyday sexism that women routinely face in our world.
On the island where I come from the men earned seventy cents for every dollar the women made. The women had little faith in the male work ethic. As my mother explained it, men lack patience, the key to great work. The metaphor she used: a man impregnates a woman in a single night, but he never understands the long months of swelling with child.
The concept is intriguing but falters in execution. The collection as a whole lacks focus and a cohesion. Some of the metaphors don’t fit quite right. (On the island, men’s penises are tattooed with flowers for aesthetic reasons. This is supposed to be a metaphor for genital mutilation. Since circumcision is a common practice in the real world, I’m not sure why this metaphor was deemed necessary.) Other elements are downright bizarre. (Every woman on the island looks like Angelina Jolie and is called Angelina.)
If you like strange, fantastical worlds you will probably find certain aspects of this collection enjoyable, even if it doesn’t quite succeed as a whole.
Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur
This collection explores themes of love, heartbreak, femininity, sexual assault, and healing. It has been so lauded in every corner of the online book community that it may seem difficult to imagine it could be anything other than good. Unfortunately, it could. It is a huge disappointment for me.
I’m probably not the first person to point out the fact that breaking a sentence into lines does not a poem make. Most of the poetry in this collection isn’t poetry at all but what appears to be snippets from the diary of a fifteen-year-old girl. In fact, I had a friend my freshman year of high school who wrote better poetry than this (and drew better illustrations to go along with it).
it is your blood
in my veins
tell me how i’m
supposed to forget
I respect the fact that it must have taken a lot of courage to for Kaur to write about experiences that are deeply painful and personal, but that doesn’t change the fact that, with a handful of notable exceptions, the poems in this collection are largely unoriginal and poorly written.
Do you have a favorite feminist poetry collection? Tell me about it in the comments!