7 Women Poets You Should Read To Celebrate National Poetry Month

April is National Poetry Month, and last month was Women's History Month, so... what better time to make a list of great female poets you should check out? The great thing about poems is that they're relatively brief, usually, which means it's easy to fit some into your day no matter how busy you are. The following poets are either some of my all-time favorites or women whose writing my friends have told me I need to read ASAP. This month, why not celebrate poetry by reading some of their work? 

1. Emily Dickinson

I have a GIANT CRUSH on Emily Dickinson, so of course she has to come first in my list! It's easy for me to relate to her since she was a prolific writer and painfully shy as well. (She was practically a recluse in the later years of her life.) Although very little of her poetry was published during her lifetime, she is now one of the best-known female poets. Her writing style is very inventive and fun to read with its frequent use of capitalization and dashes.

Poems to try: "Because I could not stop for Death," "I felt a Funeral in my Brain," "I'm Nobody! Who are you?"

2. Maya Angelou

I am embarrassed to admit that I've never actually read any of Angelou's poetry! Since no self-respecting English major can say that and get away with it, I definitely need to read some of her writing this month. I do know that her career spanned more than fifty years, during which time she came to be respected as an advocate for justice for women and African-Americans. She read some of her work at Bill Clinton's inauguration and was award the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama, which should give you some idea of just how pivotal she was to American literature in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. 

Poems to try: "Still I Rise," "Phenomenal Woman," "Alone"

3. Gwendolyn Brooks

My first introduction to Brooks' poetry was in a creative writing workshop class during the fall semester of my freshman year. Since then, it seems like I've read some of her poetry in at least one class each semester. I love the way her poetry deals not with lofty subjects but ordinary people and their day-to-day lives—the decisions a parent makes, the adventures of children in the summer and more.

Poems to try: "The Mother," "We Real Cool," "Boy Breaking Glass"

4. Warsan Shire 

If Warsan Shire's name sounds familiar to you, there may be a reason why: This Somali-British poet collaborated with Beyoncé on her latest album, Lemonade, and provided some of the lyrics for her songs. (She also recently penned a poem to announce Beyoncé's pregnancy!) Her poetry is often inspired by her relationships with friends and family, and she teaches poetry workshops worldwide.

Poems to try: "The Unbearable Weight of Staying (The End of the Relationship)," "For Women Who Are Difficult to Love," "What They Did Yesterday Afternoon"

5. Rupi Kaur

I haven't read much of Kaur's work yet, but I certainly need to read more. She first became famous on Instagram, where she posted short poems and illustrations accompanying then. She has since self-published a book of poetry, Milk and Honey, which discusses topics such as survival and femininity. 

Poems to try: "Answers," "Balance," "Self Harm"

6. Audre Lorde

Audre Lorde is endlessly quotable. Her poetry deals mostly with issues of social justice—racism, sexism and homophobia. She also wrote quite a lot of prose in her lifetime, in case that is more up your alley. Although she died almost twenty-five years ago, I find myself often turning to her work in order to make sense of today's world.

Poems to try: "Afterimages," "Sisters in Arms," "Love Poem"

7. Sappho

Sappho is a bit of a tricky poet to read because she lived thousands of years ago, which means that only fragments of her poetry have survived. Historians and translators have pieced together what they can of her works, but much of it will remain forever incomplete. Frequently, her poems are about her friendships and romantic relationships with other women. 

Poems to try: "The Daughter of Cyprus," "Please," "I Have Not Had One Word From Her"

Who are some of your favorite female poets? Happy reading, collegiettes!


Photos: cover, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

Elizabeth Chesak is a junior at the University of Iowa. She is triple-majoring in English & Creative Writing, Journalism, and Gender, Women’s, & Sexuality Studies to prepare for her hybrid dream job of picture book author/National Geographic photojournalist/activist. When not in class, studying, or sleeping, she can usually be found befriending the neighborhood cats.

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