It’s April, which means that National Poetry Month is officially in full swing. To celebrate, I decided to put together a short list of a few of my favorite contemporary female poets who are still actively publishing today. While I am a fan of the contributions of older poets like Sylvia Plath and Emily Dickinson, it’s inspiring to see other women pouring their heart into their craft currently and writing about modern and timeless subjects.
“She says she cries over me on the
train to and from work
and one day it will be better but it
isn’t better now.
she is just like my mother, but alive.
knows how to love
something about the way black women
hold your heart.
You can leave them all you like but you
can’t stay gone”
— “now that it’s all over”, from bone by Yrsa Daley-Ward
Yrsa Daley-Ward is a British poet of West Indian and West African heritage. Her poetry is full of beautiful images and lilting language that doesn’t leave a single syllable wasted. It’s raw and evocative in a quiet, slow-burning sort of way. She uses brevity and masterful word choice to her advantage, which, in the digital age, is especially smart — You’ve probably seen screencaps from her most recent release, bone, shared on Instagram and Tumblr.
Recently, Daley-Ward has been advocating for more visibility and reader support for independent authors of color using the hashtag #digitaliscritical on Instagram. Her latest collection, bone, is only $10.00 on Amazon which is a steal for such a large collection of poetry (136 pages!) so pick it up and be sure to leave a review. I purchased it myself and have been absolutely loving it. The succinctness of the poems makes this collection easy to pick up and re-visit at any point.
“Lover. I am not ashamed of the red
drip budding between my thighs.
Nor am I amused when you call it war
paint. Every woman dreams
of being a red-clad girl, dreams
it spread tight around our breasts.
We all look a wonder with it smeared
across our lips. Do we not?”
— excerpt from “Red” by Fatimah Asghar
I first heard of Fatimah Asghar by way of an article shared on the Button Poetry Facebook page. Normally, my feed is so full of clickbait, I scroll past most links but for some reason, I clicked on one of her performances, and was entranced. I’m super super glad that I did, though, because Asghar’s poetry, specifically her spoken word, is pretty awesome.
As far as both subject and voice are concerned, Asghar’s work is very dynamic, ranging from poignant reflections on tragedies, to odes to granny panties. “Pluto Shits on the Universe” is a delightfully vulgar, volatile performance, and definitely a stark contrast to her poem “For Peshawar”, which is altogether heartbreaking in every way. No matter what emotion she’s evoking from her readers, Asghar always just does it so well, for lack of better words, and I admire that. She also has a pretty cool TED Talk.
“I was born as a woman, I talk you to death,
or else your ear off,
or else you to sleep. What do I have, all the time
in the world, and a voice that swings brass back
and forth, you can hear it, and a focal point where
my face should be. What do I have, I have absolute
power, and what I want is your money, your drool,
and your mind, and the sense of myself as a snake,
and a garter in the grass. Every bone in the snake
is the hipbone, every part of the snake is the hips.”
— excerpt from “The Hypno-Domme Speaks, and Speaks and Speaks” by Patricia Lockwood
Simple child that I am, it was the aesthetically appealing cover art of Patricia Lockwood’s poetry collection “Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals” that first caught my eye on a shelf at Barnes & Noble two years ago. This book ended up being my favorite poetry collection of all time (of. all. time.), and I regularly want to punch myself for losing it.
Lockwood’s poetry is really difficult for me to quantify in words. It’s really strange, and really clever, and sometimes confusing, but in a good way. You’ve probably seen her viral poem, “Rape Joke” making the rounds on Tumblr. “The rape joke is if you write a poem called Rape Joke, you’re asking for it to become the only thing people remember about you,” she writes. As memorable as this particular poem is, Lockwood is definitely no literary one-hit-wonder. In addition to the two collections of poetry she has under her belt, Lockwood’s Twitter account is hilarious, and she is often credited with pioneering the sext as a literary form. Check out some of her blog posts for The Poetry Foundation, too.
Getting into poetry can be intimidating for lots of young girls. The writers who are frequently hailed as the “masters”, I have found, are mostly old, grumpy white men whose works can sometimes feel boring and even pedantic. There is no shame in feeling this way, I have learned. I spent so long pretending to enjoy works that I secretly considered dull and monotonous for the sake of becoming “cultured”, whatever the hell that’s supposed to mean. Hopefully, if you’ve felt the same way, these contemporary poets are a breath of fresh air.
Who are your favorite poets? If you have any recommendations, let me know! 🙂