“The world would split open”: Reviewing ‘Poems From The Women’s Movement’

Do you care about poetry?

If you said, “Yes,” while clutching your dogeared tomes of Byron earnestly to your chest, you’re adorable. Skip the next paragraph.

If you said no, your experience of poetry has probably been something like this: you were probably forced to read Paul Revere’s Midnight Ride in 7th grade Language Arts, maybe analyzed a few sonnets in high school, read a little Dickinson, and heard The Road Not Taken at at least 5 graduation ceremonies on any level even though those readings of ‘Road’ completely misinterpret the meaning of the poem but whatever. You probably wrote some during your adolescence, stuff that you remember every once in a while, with a shiver of cringe. Am I right?

Well, I’m here to tell you that if you didn’t already, you should give a shit about poetry! Especially if you’re a girl, or a feminist, or both!

Like most art forms, poetry has been dominated by men ever since its invention, because

  1. Women weren’t often as well-educated as men historically, and
  2. because patriarchy.

Option 2 comes up an awful lot in these kinds of discussions, doesn’t it?

Despite this, there have been many renowned female poets mostly from an upperclass background until recently: Enheduanna, the first recorded female writer. Sappho. Murasaki Shikibu, author of the world’s first novel, The Tale of Genji. Phyllis Wheatley. Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz. Elizabeth Barrett-Browning. Maya Angelou. There are many women I could list here, and millions more I could not because their names are lost to history.

Still, like I said, male-dominated art form. Which is why Poems from the Women’s Movement, ed. Honor Moore, is an excellent place to start.

Everything you need to know about this book is encapsulated in this verse by Marilyn Rukeyser:

What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life?

The world would split open.

Poems from the Women’s Movement has a pretty good spread of poets and styles, from greatest hits like Anne Sexton’s Ballad of the Lonely Masturbator (‘At night, alone, I marry the bed’) and Audre Lorde’s A Litany for Survival (which, if you haven’t read, put this article down and read it right now, right this very minute do it do it DO IT) while also representing less well-known poets. I have this book to thank for introducing me to alta, whose poem 10 commandments for liberation found its way to my Instagram a few months back.

My only complaint with this collection is that it could be retitled Poems from the Second Wave and be completely accurate. While the work itself is dynamic, all of the women in this book are of a certain age. Sure, you could argue that the phrase ‘women’s movement’ hearkens to a specific era of feminism and feminist action, but to me, the women’s movement doesn’t necessarily begin at Seneca Falls in 1848 or refer to a specific part of the movement in the 70s- it’s a vast and overarching school of thought through time that’s still ongoing, and it’s all part of the same story. This collection is poorer for not embracing a slightly more liberal interpretation of the movement’s inception. But my mentor told me once that every anthology ever is horrible, because somewhere, someone who was deserving got left out.

But these are minor quibbles. Poems from the Women’s Movement deserves to be read. Get it if you want to read something that will leave you contemplative, if you want to learn more about feminist poetry of the Second Wave/Women’s Lib, or if you want to learn how to poetry- ESPECIALLY if you want to learn how to poetry. Which you should. Because you should give a shit about poetry.

Full disclosure: I’m a published poet. I’m biased. I like poetry a whole lot. I went to a women’s college and learned how to poetry in an environment where we read a very intersectional spread in nearly every class. It wasn’t your average survey of dead white Western men. But now that I’ve been torn from left my little college bubble, I’m discovering that the dead white guys comprise 90% of what is taught ‘most everywhere else. And now that I’m out here trying to get my shit published, I’m finding that like nearly everything else, dudes dominate the industry.

Once you know better, you do better. So, read Poems from the Women’s Movement. Let it inspire you. If you’re not a writer, let it direct you to more women poets and writers whose work too often gets overlooked. And keep giving a shit.

Have you read this book? Do you have a non-obnoxious opinion about it? Do you have a question about how to poetry? Leave me a comment or tweet me @ThatCurvyChick!