Don't Make Me Turn This Life Around by Camille Pagán Don't Make Me Turn This Life Around by Camille Pagán Don't Make Me Turn This Life Around by Camille Pagán
Riot Headline Winner, Winner: Announcing the 2021 Pulitzer Prize Winners

25 Feminist Poems to Provoke and Inspire Nasty Women

There's something that makes verse (both written and spoken) a uniquely powerful vessel to express the multifaceted experiences of feminism. It's easier to discover new feminist poetry and strong woman poems. In this collection of 25 feminist poems, you'll find a voice for every perspective from the feminist movement. From feminist love poems to poems about women's rights, you can read, watch, and be inspired by some of the greatest feminist poets working past and present. 25 of the Best Feminist Poems

"Lady Lazarus" by Sylvia Plath

I have done it again. One year in every ten I manage it— A sort of walking miracle, my skin Bright as a Nazi lampshade, My right foot A paperweight, My face a featureless, fine Jew linen. Peel off the napkin O my enemy. Do I terrify?— The nose, the eye pits, the full set of teeth? The sour breath Will vanish in a day. Soon, soon the flesh The grave cave ate will be At home on me And I a smiling woman. I am only thirty. And like the cat I have nine times to die. This is Number Three. What a trash To annihilate each decade. What a million filaments. The peanut-crunching crowd Shoves in to see Them unwrap me hand and foot— The big strip tease. Gentlemen, ladies These are my hands My knees. I may be skin and bone, Nevertheless, I am the same, identical woman. The first time it happened I was ten. It was an accident. The second time I meant To last it out and not come back at all. I rocked shut As a seashell. They had to call and call And pick the worms off me like sticky pearls. Dying Is an art, like everything else. I do it exceptionally well. I do it so it feels like hell. I do it so it feels real. I guess you could say I’ve a call. It’s easy enough to do it in a cell. It’s easy enough to do it and stay put. It’s the theatrical Comeback in broad day To the same place, the same face, the same brute Amused shout: ‘A miracle!’ That knocks me out. There is a charge For the eyeing of my scars, there is a charge For the hearing of my heart— It really goes. And there is a charge, a very large charge For a word or a touch Or a bit of blood Or a piece of my hair or my clothes. So, so, Herr Doktor. So, Herr Enemy. I am your opus, I am your valuable, The pure gold baby That melts to a shriek. I turn and burn. Do not think I underestimate your great concern. Ash, ash— You poke and stir. Flesh, bone, there is nothing there— A cake of soap, A wedding ring, A gold filling. Herr God, Herr Lucifer Beware Beware. Out of the ash I rise with my red hair And I eat men like air.

"Planetarium" by Adrienne Rich, read by astrophysicist Janna Levin

"Marrying the Hangman" by Margaret Atwood

She has been condemned to death by hanging. A man may escape this death by becoming the hangman, a woman by marrying the hangman. But at the present time there is no hangman; thus there is no escape. There is only a death, indefinitely postponed. This is not fantasy, it is history. * To live in prison is to live without mirrors. To live without mirrors is to live without the self. She is living selflessly, she finds a hole in the stone wall and on the other side of the wall, a voice. The voice comes through darkness and has no face. This voice becomes her mirror. * In order to avoid her death, her particular death, with wrung neck and swollen tongue, she must marry the hangman. But there is no hangman, first she must create him, she must persuade this man at the end of the voice, this voice she has never seen and which has never seen her, this darkness, she must persuade him to renounce his face, exchange it for the impersonal mask of death, of official death which has eyes but no mouth, this mask of a dark leper. She must transform his hands so they will be willing to twist the rope around throats that have been singled out as hers was, throats other than hers. She must marry the hangman or no one, but that is not so bad. Who else is there to marry? * You wonder about her crime. She was condemned to death for stealing clothes from her employer, from the wife of her employer. She wished to make herself more beautiful. This desire in servants was not legal. * She uses her voice like a hand, her voice reaches through the wall, stroking and touching. What could she possibly have said that would have convinced him? He was not condemned to death, freedom awaited him. What was the temptation, the one that worked? Perhaps he wanted to live with a woman whose life he had saved, who had seen down into the earth but had nevertheless followed him back up to life. It was his only chance to be a hero, to one person at least, for if he became the hangman the others would despise him. He was in prison for wounding another man, on one finger of the right hand, with a sword. This too is history. * My friends, who are both women, tell me their stories, which cannot be believed and which are true. They are horror stories and they have not happened to me, they have not yet happened to me, they have happened to me but we are detached, we watch our unbelief with horror. Such things cannot happen to us, it is afternoon and these things do not happen in the afternoon. The trouble was, she said, I didn’t have time to put my glasses on and without them I’m blind as a bat, I couldn’t even see who it was. These things happen and we sit at a table and tell stories about them so we can finally believe. This is not fantasy, it is history, there is more than one hangman and because of this some of them are unemployed. * He said: the end of walls, the end of ropes, the opening of doors, a field, the wind, a house, the sun, a table, an apple. She said: nipple, arms, lips, wine, belly, hair, bread, thighs, eyes, eyes. They both kept their promises. * The hangman is not such a bad fellow. Afterwards he goes to the refrigerator and cleans up the leftovers, though he does not wipe up what he accidentally spills. He wants only the simple things: a chair, someone to pull off his shoes, someone to watch him while he talks, with admiration and fear, gratitude if possible, someone in whom to plunge himself for rest and renewal. These things can best be had by marrying a woman who has been condemned to death by other men for wishing to be beautiful. There is a wide choice. * Everyone said he was a fool. Everyone said she was a clever woman. They used the word ensnare. * What did they say the first time they were alone together in the same room? What did he say when she had removed her veil and he could see that she was not a voice but a body and therefore finite? What did she say when she discovered that she had left one locked room for another? They talked of love, naturally, though that did not keep them busy forever. * The fact is there are no stories I can tell my friends that will make them feel better. History cannot be erased, although we can soothe ourselves by speculating about it. At that time there were no female hangmen. Perhaps there have never been any, and thus no man could save his life by marriage. Though a woman could, according to the law. * He said: foot, boot, order, city, fist, roads, time, knife. She said: water, night, willow, rope hair, earth belly, cave, meat, shroud, open, blood. They both kept their promises.

"Spear" by Elizabeth Acevedo


"what they don't want you to know" by Amanda Lovelace

[caption id="attachment_259123" align="aligncenter" width="3024"] "what they don't want you to know" by Amanda Lovelace[/caption]

"I Am A Nasty Woman" by Nina Donovan, read by Ashley Judd at the 2017 Women's March on Washington

"Her Kind" by Anne Sexton

I have gone out, a possessed witch, haunting the black air, braver at night; dreaming evil, I have done my hitch over the plain houses, light by light: lonely thing, twelve-fingered, out of mind. A woman like that is not a woman, quite. I have been her kind. I have found the warm caves in the woods, filled them with skillets, carvings, shelves, closets, silks, innumerable goods; fixed the suppers for the worms and the elves: whining, rearranging the disaligned. A woman like that is misunderstood. I have been her kind. I have ridden in your cart, driver, waved my nude arms at villages going by, learning the last bright routes, survivor where your flames still bite my thigh and my ribs crack where your wheels wind. A woman like that is not ashamed to die.

"All the Good Women are gone" by Susan Nguyen

Have you ever cried during an interview because you started talking about your family, or while serving tables in Virginia when a man’s hand lands on your ass. Have you ever had your boyfriend tell you he wanted to go celibate, which meant no kissing or holding hands, or ever been pulled over for tailgating a cop who called you stupid, to which you agreed. Have you ever been 9 weeks pregnant, barely able to pay for your tiny apartment, and searching for something, anything, you don’t know what, amidst sites asking Where are all the good women? Why do they sin? They’ll take your money and break your heart and you think good but feel sick. The pill you order arrives in a yellow envelope. It looks like it came from someone’s basement, and you cramp for days. The bleeding never stops, not like on your period. When you pull down your underwear, a blood clot falls onto the bathroom floor of the gas station. This is when you are driving west and you ask your phone: Does coffee make anxiety worse? What are to-be verbs? How long will 18 mg of Adderall last? How to stop yourself from crying? Answer: distract yourself with pain. Sink your nails into your thighs. Slam your hand in a car door. Slap your jaw with a tightened fist and laugh at how easy it used to be to make yourself cry on purpose. All you had to do was think about your dog dying someday and now you think about your dog dying two years ago and there is nothing. There is nothing until you leave the bathroom and the man behind the counter says Slow down, child. At least buy yourself a pretzel melt first. Then, perhaps, there is something.

"Final Performance" by Cynthia Cruz

I crawl along the wet floor Of my mother’s childhood, A serpent, or a long-buried secret, In my mother’s bisque Chiffon gown with small stars Stitched in silver, a crown Of tinsel pinned into the dark Blonde knots and dreads of my hair. I follow a sequin thread of dead Things, stop when the moon clocks out, Polish my long nails in the sun.

"Still I rise" by Maya Angelou, read by Serena Williams

"Respect" by Melissa Studdard

Because her body is winter inside a cave because someone built fire there and forgot to put it out because bedtime is a castle she’s building inside herself with a moat and portcullis and buckets full of mist because when you let go the reins horses tumble over cliffs and turn into moths before hitting bottom because their hooves leave streaks of midnight in the sky because stuffed rabbits are better at keeping secrets than stopping hands because when the world got shoved up inside her she held it tight like a kegel ball and wondered at the struggle Atlas had carrying such a tiny thing on his back

"Wade in the Water" by Tracy K. Smith

for the Geechee Gullah Ring Shouters One of the women greeted me. I love you, she said. She didn’t Know me, but I believed her, And a terrible new ache Rolled over in my chest, Like in a room where the drapes Have been swept back. I love you, I love you, as she continued Down the hall past other strangers, Each feeling pierced suddenly By pillars of heavy light. I love you, throughout The performance, in every Handclap, every stomp. I love you in the rusted iron Chains someone was made To drag until love let them be Unclasped and left empty In the center of the ring. I love you in the water Where they pretended to wade, Singing that old blood-deep song That dragged us to those banks And cast us in. I love you, The angles of it scraping at Each throat, shouldering past The swirling dust motes In those beams of light That whatever we now knew We could let ourselves feel, knew To climb. O Woods—O Dogs— O Tree—O Gun—O Girl, run— O Miraculous Many Gone— O Lord—O Lord—O Lord— Is this love the trouble you promised?

"My Mother Was a Freedom Fighter" by Aja Monet

"A Woman Speaks" by Audre Lorde

Moon marked and touched by sun my magic is unwritten but when the sea turns back it will leave my shape behind. I seek no favor untouched by blood unrelenting as the curse of love permanent as my errors or my pride I do not mix love with pity nor hate with scorn and if you would know me look into the entrails of Uranus where the restless oceans pound. I do not dwell within my birth nor my divinities who am ageless and half-grown and still seeking my sisters witches in Dahomey wear me inside their coiled cloths as our mother did mourning. I have been woman for a long time beware my smile I am treacherous with old magic and the noon's new fury with all your wide futures promised I am woman and not white.

"Fire" by Nikita Gill

[caption id="attachment_259260" align="aligncenter" width="394"] "Fire" by Nikita Gill[/caption]

"Pocket-Sized Feminism" by Blythe Baird

"Poet as Housewife" by Elisabeth Eybers

Always a broom leaned against a wall, meals never on time, if they come at all. Days without dates through which she moves empty and stubborn, slightly confused. Ironing hung dejectedly over a chair, gestures that come from who-knows-where. Old letters unanswered, piled together, papers and pills stuffed deep in a drawer. Thankful to be part of your heart’s great whole yet devoted to the limits of her own small skull. O orderly biped, take heed, leave her alone—let her read. —Translated from the Afrikaans by Jacquelyn Pope

"The Period Poem" by Dominique Christina

"They Shut Me Up in Prose— (445)" by Emily Dickinson

They shut me up in Prose— As when a little Girl They put me in the Closet— Because they liked me “still”— Still! Could themself have peeped— And seen my Brain—go round— They might as wise have lodged a Bird For Treason—in the Pound— Himself has but to will And easy as a Star Look down opon Captivity— And laugh—No more have I—

"what's the greatest lesson a woman should learn?" by Rupi Kaur

[caption id="attachment_259267" align="aligncenter" width="540"] "what's the greatest lesson a woman should learn?" by Rupi Kaur[/caption]

"Fantastic Breasts and Where to Find Them" by Brenna Twohy

"Sadie and Maud" by Gwendolyn Brooks

Maud went to college. Sadie stayed at home. Sadie scraped life With a fine-tooth comb. She didn’t leave a tangle in. Her comb found every strand. Sadie was one of the livingest chits In all the land. Sadie bore two babies Under her maiden name. Maud and Ma and Papa Nearly died of shame. When Sadie said her last so-long Her girls struck out from home. (Sadie had left as heritage Her fine-tooth comb.) Maud, who went to college, Is a thin brown mouse. She is living all alone In this old house.

"10 Honest Thoughts on Being Loved by a Skinny Boy" by Rachel Wiley

"A Myth of Devotion" by Louise Glück

When Hades decided he loved this girl he built for her a duplicate of earth, everything the same, down to the meadow, but with a bed added. Everything the same, including sunlight, because it would be hard on a young girl to go so quickly from bright light to utter darkness Gradually, he thought, he’d introduce the night, first as the shadows of fluttering leaves. Then moon, then stars. Then no moon, no stars. Let Persephone get used to it slowly. In the end, he thought, she’d find it comforting. A replica of earth except there was love here. Doesn’t everyone want love? He waited many years, building a world, watching Persephone in the meadow. Persephone, a smeller, a taster. If you have one appetite, he thought, you have them all. Doesn’t everyone want to feel in the night the beloved body, compass, polestar, to hear the quiet breathing that says I am alive, that means also you are alive, because you hear me, you are here with me. And when one turns, the other turns— That’s what he felt, the lord of darkness, looking at the world he had constructed for Persephone. It never crossed his mind that there’d be no more smelling here, certainly no more eating. Guilt? Terror? The fear of love? These things he couldn’t imagine; no lover ever imagines them. He dreams, he wonders what to call this place. First he thinks: The New Hell. Then: The Garden. In the end, he decides to name it Persephone’s Girlhood. A soft light rising above the level meadow, behind the bed. He takes her in his arms. He wants to say I love you, nothing can hurt you but he thinks this is a lie, so he says in the end you’re dead, nothing can hurt you which seems to him a more promising beginning, more true.

"Feminist or a Womanist" by Staceyann Chin

For more feminist writers on Book Riot, check out our collection of strong women quotes, our Buy, Borrow, Bypass guide to feminist poetry collections, and list of empowering feminist quotes.
Start an Free Trial and listen to all your faves!