Feminist Poets

After Auschwitz By: Anne Sexton

as black as a hook,
overtakes me.
Each day,
each Nazi
took, at 8:00 A.M., a baby
and sauteed him for breakfast
in his frying pan.
And death looks on with a casual eye
and picks at the dirt under his fingernail.
Man is evil,
I say aloud.
Man is a flower
that should be burnt,
I say aloud.
is a bird full of mud,
I say aloud.
And death looks on with a casual eye
and scratches his anus.
Man with his small pink toes,
with his miraculous fingers
is not a temple
but an outhouse,
I say aloud.
Let man never again raise his teacup.
Let man never again write a book.
Let man never again put on his shoe.
Let man never again raise his eyes,
on a soft July night.
Never. Never. Never. Never. Never.
I say those things aloud.
I beg the Lord not to hear.

The Black Art By: Anne Sexton

A woman who writes feels too much,
those trances and portents!
As if cycles and children and islands
weren’t enough; as if mourners and gossips
and vegetables were never enough.
She thinks she can warn the stars.
A writer is essentially a spy.
Dear love, I am that girl.
A man who writes knows too much,
such spells and fetiches!
As if erections and congresses and products
weren’t enough; as if machines and galleons
and wars were never enough.
With used furniture he makes a tree.
A writer is essentially a crook.
Dear love, you are that man.
Never loving ourselves,
hating even our shoes and our hats,
we love each other, precious , precious .
Our hands are light blue and gentle.
Our eyes are full of terrible confessions.
But when we marry,
the children leave in disgust.
There is too much food and no one left over
to eat up all the weird abundance.

The Kiss By: Anne Sexton

My mouth blooms like a cut.
I’ve been wronged all year, tedious
nights, nothing but rough elbows in them
and delicate boxes of Kleenex calling crybaby
crybaby , you fool !
Before today my body was useless.
Now it’s tearing at its square corners.
It’s tearing old Mary’s garments off, knot by knot
and see — Now it’s shot full of these electric bolts.
Zing! A resurrection!
Once it was a boat, quite wooden
and with no business, no salt water under it
and in need of some paint. It was no more
than a group of boards. But you hoisted her, rigged her.
She’s been elected.
My nerves are turned on. I hear them like
musical instruments. Where there was silence
the drums, the strings are incurably playing. You did this.
Pure genius at work. Darling, the composer has stepped
into fire.

Child By: Sylvia Plath

Your clear eye is the one absolutely beautiful thing.
I want to fill it with color and ducks,
The zoo of the new
Whose names you meditate—
April snowdrop, Indian pipe,
Stalk without wrinkle,
Pool in which images
Should be grand and classical
Not this troublous
Wringing of hands, this dark
Ceiling without a star.

Gigolo By: Sylvia Plath

Pocket watch, I tick well.
The streets are lizardly crevices
Sheer-sided, with holes where to hide.
It is best to meet in a cul-de-sac,
A palace of velvet
With windows of mirrors.
There one is safe,
There are no family photographs,
No rings through the nose, no cries.
Bright fish hooks, the smiles of women
Gulp at my bulk
And I, in my snazzy blacks,
Mill a litter of breasts like jellyfish.
To nourish
The cellos of moans I eat eggs—
Eggs and fish, the essentials,
The aphrodisiac squid.
My mouth sags,
The mouth of Christ
When my engine reaches the end of it.
The tattle of my
Gold joints, my way of turning
Bitches to ripples of silver
Rolls out a carpet, a hush.
And there is no end, no end of it.
I shall never grow old.
New oysters
Shriek in the sea and I
Glitter like Fontainebleu
All the fall of water an eye
Over whose pool I tenderly
Lean and see me.

Kindness By: Sylvia Plath

Kindness glides about my house.
Dame Kindness, she is no nice!
The blue and red jewels of her rings smoke
In the windows, the mirrors
Are filling with smiles.
What is so real as the cry of a child?
A rabbit’s cry may be wilder
But it has no soul.
Sugar can cure everything, so Kindness says.
Sugar is a necessary fluid,
Its crystals a little poultice.
O kindness, kindness
Sweetly picking up pieces!
My Japanese silks, desperate butterflies,
May be pinned any minute, anesthetized.
And here you come, with a cup of tea
Wreathed in steam.
The blood jet is poetry,
There is no stopping it.
You hand me two children, two roses.

Mad Girl’s Love Song By: Sylvia Plath

“I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead;
I lift my lids and all is born again.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)
The stars go waltzing out in blue and red,
And arbitrary blackness gallops in:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.
I dreamed that you bewitched me into bed
And sung me moon-struck, kissed me quite insane.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)
God topples from the sky, hell’s fires fade:
Exit seraphim and Satan’s men:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.
I fancied you’d return the way you said,
But I grow old and I forget your name.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)
I should have loved a thunderbird instead;
At least when spring comes they roar back again.
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)”

Mirror By: Sylvia Plath

I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions.
What ever you see I swallow immediately
Just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike.
I am not cruel, only truthful—
The eye of a little god, four-cornered.
Most of the time I meditate on the opposite wall.
It is pink, with speckles. I have looked at it so long
I think it is a part of my heart. But it flickers.
Faces and darkness separate us over and over.
Now I am a lake. A woman bends over me,
Searching my reaches for what she really is.
Then she turns to those liars, the candles or the moon.
I see her back, and reflect it faithfully.
She rewards me with tears and an agitation of hands.
I am important to her. She comes and goes.
Each morning it is her face that replaces the darkness.
In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman
Rises toward her day after day, like a terrible fish.

The First Long Range Artillery Fire On Leningrad By: Anna Akhmatova of Russia

A multi-colored crowd streaked about,
and suddenly all was totally changed.
It wasn’t the usual city racket.
It came from a strange land.
True, it was akin to some random claps of thunder,
but natural thunder heralds the wetness of fresh water
high clouds to quench the thirst of fields gone dry and parched,
a messenger of blessed rain,
but this was as dry as hell must be.
My distraught perception refused to believe it,
because of the insane suddenness with which it sounded,
swelled and hit,
and how casually it came to murder my child.

You Fit Into Me By: Margaret Atwood

You fit into me
like a hook into an eye
a fish hook
an open eye
“At the point where language
falls away
from the hot bones, at the point
where the rock breaks open and darkness
flows out of it like blood, at
the melting point of granite
when the bones know
they are hollow & the word
splits & doubles & speaks
the truth & the body
itself becomes a mouth.
This is a metaphor.”

Litany For Survival By: Audre Lorde

For those of us who live at the shoreline
standing upon the constant edges of decision
crucial and alone
for those of us who cannot indulge
the passing dreams of choice
who love in doorways coming and going
in the hours between dawns
looking inward and outward
at once before and after
seeking a now that can breed futures
like bread in our children’s mouths
so their dreams will not reflect
the death of ours:
For those of us who were imprinted with fear
like a faint line in the center of our foreheads
learning to be afraid with our mother’s milk
for by this weapon
this illusion of some safety to be found
the heavy-footed hoped to silence us
for all of us
this instant and this triumph
We were never meant to survive.
And when the sun rises we are afraid
it might not remain
when the sun sets we are afraid
it might not rise in the morning
when our stomachs are full we are afraid
of indigestion
when our stomachs are empty we are afraid
we many never eat again
when we are loved we are afraid
love will vanish
when we are alone we are afraid
love will never return
and when we speak we are afraid
our words will not be heard
nor welcomed
but when we are silent
we are still afraid
So it is better to speak
we were never meant to survive.

The Friend By: Marge Piercy

We sat across the table.
he said, cut off your hands.
They are always poking at things.
They might touch me.
I said yes.
Food grew cold on the table.
he said, burn your body.
It is not clean and smells like sex.
It rubs my mind sore.
I said yes.
I love you, I said.
That’s very nice, he said
I like to be loved,
that makes me happy.
Have you cut off your hands yet?

The Long Death By: Marge Piercy

Radiation is like oppression
the average daily kind of
subliminal toothache
you get almost used to, the
stench of chlorine in the water, of smog
in the wind.
We comprehend disasters of
the moment,
the nursing home fire, the river in flood
pouring over the sandbag levee,
the airplane crash with fragments
of burnt bodies
scattered among the hunks of twisted metal,
the grenade in the marketplace;
the sinking ship.
But how to grasp a thing that does not
kill you today or tomorrow
but slowly from the inside in twenty years.
How to feel that a corporate or governmental
choice means we bear twisted genes and our
grandchildren will be stillborn if our
children are very lucky.
Slow death can not be photographed for
the six o’clock news. It’s all statistical,
the gross national product or the prime
lending rate. Yet if our eyes saw in the right
spectrum, how it would shine,
lurid as magenta neon.
If we could smell radiation like seeping gas,
if we could sense it as heat,
if we could hear it as a low omnious roar
of the earth shifting, then we would not sit
and be poisoned while industry spokesmen
talk of acceptable millirems and
.02 cancer per population thousand.
We acquiesce at murder so long as it is slow,
murder from asbestos dust, from tobacco,
from lead in the water, from sulphur in the air,
and fourteen years later statistics are printed
on the rise in leukemia among children.
We never see their faces. They never stand,
those poisoned children together in a courtyard,
and are gunned down by men in three-piece suits.
The shipyard workers who built nuclear submarines,
the soldiers who were marche into the Nevada desert
to be tested by the H-bomb, the people who work in power plants,
they die quietly years after in hospital ward and not on the evening news.
The soft spring rain floats down and the air
is perfumed with pine and earth. Seedlings drink it in,
robins sop it in puddles,
you run in it and feel clean and strong, the spring rain blowing from the irradiated
cloud over the power plant.
Radiation is oppression, the daily average kind, the kind you’re almost used to
and live with as the years abrade you,
high blood pressure, ulcers, cramps, migraine,
a hacking cough; you take it inside and it becomes pain and you say, not
They are killing me, but I am sick now.

Why Marry At All? By: Marge Piercy

Why mar what has grown up between the cracks and flourished
like a weed that discovers itself to bear rugged spikes of magenta blossoms in August,
ironweed sturdy and bold, a perennial that endures winters to persist? Why register
with the state? Why enlist in the legions of the respectable? Why risk the whole apparatus
of roles and rules, of laws and liabilities? Why license our bed at the foot like our Datsun truck:
will the mileage improve? Why encumber our love with patriarchal word stones, with the old armor of
husband and the corset stays and the chains of wife? Marriage meant buying a breeding womb and sole claim
to enforced sexual service. Marriage has built boxes in which women have burst their hearts sooner
than those walls; boxes of private slow murder and the fading of the bloom in the blood; boxes in which
secret bruises appear like toadstools in the morning. But we cannot invent a language of new grunts.
We start where we find ourselves, at this time and place. Which is always the crossing of roads that began
beyond the earth’s curve but whose destination we can now alter. This is a public saying to all our friends
that we want to stay together. We want to share our lives. We mean to pledge ourselves through times of broken stone
and seasons of rose and ripe plum; we have found out, we know, we want to continue.

Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers By: Adrienne Rich

Aunt Jennifer’s tigers prance across a screen,
Bright topaz denizens of a world of green.
They do not fear the men beneath the tree;
They pace in sleek chivalric certainty.
Aunt Jennifer’s fingers fluttering through her wool,
Find even the ivory needle hard to pull.
The massive weight of Uncle’s wedding band,
Sits heavily upon Aunt Jennifer’s hand.
When Aunt is dead, her terrified hands will lie,
Still ringed with ordeals she was mastered by.
The tigers in the panel that she made,
Will go on prancing, proud and unafraid.

Blame Aphrodite By: Sappho

It’s no use
Mother dear, I
can’t finish my
You may
blame Aphrodite
soft as she is
she has almost
killed me with
love for that boy

He Is More Than A Hero By: Sappho

He is more than a hero
he is a god in my eyes–
the man who is allowed
to sit beside you — he
who listens intimately
to the sweet murmur of
your voice, enticing
laughter that makes my own
heart beat fast. If I meet
you suddenly, I can’t
speak — my tongue is broken;
a thin flame runs under
my skin; seeing nothing,
hearing only my own ears
drumming, I drip with sweat;
trembling shakes my body
and I turn paler than
dry grass. At such times
death isn’t far from me.

Enuf By: Ntozake Shange

At 4:30 AM
she rose
movin the arms & legs that
trapped her
she sighed affirmin the sculptured man
& made herself a bath
of dark musk oil egyptian crystals
& florida water to remove his smell
to wash away the glitter
to watch the butterflies melt into
suds & the rhinestones fall beneath
her buttocks like smooth pebbles
in a missouri creek
layin in water
she became herself ordinary
brown braided woman
with big legs & full hips regular
seriously intendin to finish her night’s work
she quickly walked to her guest
straddled on her pillows & began
you’ll have to go now/i’ve a lot of work to do/
& i can’t with a man around/here are your pants/
there’s coffee on the stove/it’s been very nice/
but i can’t see you again/you got what you came for/
didn’t you
she smiled he would either mumble curses bout crazy bitches
or sit dumbfounded
while she repeated
i couldn’t possibly wake up/with a strange man in my bed/
why don’t you go home
she could’ve been slapped upside the head
or verbally challenged
but she never was
& the ones who fell prey to the dazzle of hips painted with
orange blossoms and magnolia scented wrists
had wanted no more
than to lay between her sparklin thighs
& had planned on leaving before dawn
& she had been so divine
devastatingly bizarre the way her mouth fit round
& now she stood a regular colored girl
fulla the same malice
livid indifference as a sistah
worn from supportin a would be hornplayer
or waiting by the window
& they knew
& left in a hurry
she would gather her tinsel & jewels from the tub
& laugh gayly or vengeful
she stored her silk roses by her bed
& when she finished writin
the account of her exploit in a diary
embroidered with lilies & moonstones
she placed the rose behind her ear
& cried herself to sleep.

Untitled (Bitter Rain In My Courtyard) By: Wu Tsao

Bitter rain in my courtyard
In the decline of Autumn,
I only have vague poetic feelings
That I cannot bring together.
They diffuse into the dark clouds
And the red leaves.
After the yellow sunset
The cold moon rises
Out of the gloomy mist.
I will not let down the blinds
Of spotted bamboo from their silver hook.
Tonight my dreams will follow the wind,
Suffering the cold,
To the jasper tower of your beautiful flesh.

The Belltower By: Diane di Prima

The weighing is done in autumn
and the sifting
what is to be threshed
is threshed in autumn
what is to be gathered is taken
the wind does not die in autumn
the moon shifts endlessly thru flying clouds
in autumn the sea is high
& a golden light plays everywhere
making it harder to go one’s way.
All leavetaking in autumn
where there is leavetaking
it is always autumn
& the sun is a crystal ball
on a golden stand
& the wind
cannot make the spruce scream loud enough.


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