10 Poetry Quotes That’ll Make You Wonder Why the Fuck You Don’t Read More Poetry: Girls, Girls, Girls Edition
As in many areas of art and life in general, women are vastly underestimated and overlooked in favor of their male counterparts in the realm of poetry. And that’s really unfortunate, because women have written and continue to write some of the loveliest, bravest, most intelligent poetry there is. I’ve taken the liberty of collecting some examples here. The list could go on for miles, but I’ve chosen ten. These are excerpts only; I’m providing links to the full poems.
Sandra Cisneros, “Black Lace Bra Kind of Woman”
Ruin your clothes, she will.
Get you home way after hours.
Drive her ’59 seventy-five on 35
like there is no tomorrow.
Woman zydeco-ing into her own decade.
Thirty years pleated behind her like
the wail of a San Antonio accordion.
And now the good times are coming. Girl,
I tell you, the good times are here.
I want to know this woman, don’t you? I love all the numbers strung together in the third line and the image of years pleated behind her like an accordion. Amazing imagery. Read the whole poem here.
Ellen Bass, “If You Knew”
What if you knew you’d be the last
to touch someone?
If you were taking tickets, for example,
at the theater, tearing them,
giving back the ragged stubs,
you might take care to touch that palm,
brush your fingertips
along the life line’s crease.
When a man pulls his wheeled suitcase
too slowly through the airport, when
the car in front of me doesn’t signal,
when the clerk at the pharmacy
won’t say Thank you, I don’t remember
they’re going to die.
I found this poem to be very centering. Small annoyances become perfectly dwarfed by the truth of our mortality. I love a poem that takes mundane things and makes them elegant and beautiful. The last stanza of this poem is gorgeous, so I hope you’ll click through. (Bonus: There’s a video of Ellen Bass reading the poem.)
Marge Piercy, “Barbie Doll”
She was advised to play coy,
exhorted to come on hearty,
exercise, diet, smile and wheedle.
Her good nature wore out
like a fan belt.
So she cut off her nose and her legs
and offered them up.
In the casket displayed on satin she lay
with the undertaker’s cosmetics painted on,
a turned-up putty nose,
dressed in a pink and white nightie.
Doesn’t she look pretty? everyone said.
Consummation at last.
To every woman a happy ending.
Consumed in its entirety, this poem is a slap to the face. As a woman I am so angered by it, not because it lies, but because the truth of it is so real: Women are taught their whole lives that being pretty and pleasant is the most important thing we can be, and how it wears out our psyches. I think this poem is so sad, so upsetting, and so wrenchingly well-written.
Linda Pastan, “Anger”
Ah, you think you know so much,
you whose anger is a pet dog,
its canines dull with disuse.
But mine is a rabid thing,
sharpening its teeth
on my very bones,
and I will never let it go.
I’m an angry woman. I spent a lot of my time pissed off, and this poem speaks to me on a profound level. It’s about being afraid of your own rage, and not only that, but fearing being the target of your own anger. The word choices here are so vivid, and I love the dog metaphor. Read the whole thing here.
Sylvia Plath, “Lady Lazarus”
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
Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
And I eat men like air.
YAS QUEEN. Don’t even get me started on Sylvia Plath, all right? (Too late – stay tuned for my post on The Bell Jar coming soon.) Plath struggled with mental health issues and attempted suicide several times before completing the act in 1963 at the age of 30. I think “Lady Lazarus” deals wryly with the idea of suicide (particularly failed attempts at it) and turns the experience of stepping up to the brink of death and coming back into almost a swagger of confidence, or perhaps self-deprecation – look out y’all, I have a power you can barely fathom. Full poem here.
Consider the handsthat write this letter.
Left palm pressed flat against paper,as we have done before, over my heart,in peace or reverence to the sea,some beautiful thingI saw once, felt once: snow fallinglike rice flung from the giants’ wedding,
or strangest of strange birds.
Another elegant poem with beautiful imagery: “Snow falling / like rice flung from the giants’ wedding” makes me smile. It reminds me of the stories our parents told us to explain phenomena when we were children, like my mother telling me not to be afraid of thunder because it was just the angels bowling. Read the rest here.
You fit into me
like a hook into an eye
a fish hook
an open eye
My lover took 48 years
to put on a lipstick and dress,
and for the rest of his life
will know what it means
to be beautiful. Believe.
Break our wine glass and
fill it with hope. As a fragment
opening to candlelight.
I had no idea who Ryka Aoki de la Cruz was before a friend recommended this poem about a week ago, and it blew me away. It’s full of great lines that I can relate to (my favorite: “I am a fish who appreciates / a good fish stick”) and each stanza surprised me a little. Full poem here.
Maya Angelou, “Men”
One day they hold you in the
Palms of their hands, gentle, as if you
Were the last raw egg in the world. Then
They tighten up. Just a little. The
First squeeze is nice. A quick hug.
Soft into your defenselessness. A little
More. The hurt begins. Wrench out a
Smile that slides around the fear.
I picked this Maya Angelou poem because it’s one I’d never read before and I adored it on first reading. It’s an interesting (and sad and, I think, true) description of how girls’ relationships to and with men change as we grow from children to women. I think this is an emotionally tough, no-pulled-punches poem. Whole thing is here.
Andrea Gibson, “A Poem About Letting Go”
I leave you with this one by Andrea Gibson because it’s the most heart-wrenching, beautiful, unforgettable poem I’ve encountered in a long time, and because not all poetry is written down. Ladycrush commencing.