"How I Run"
Why I Run: To Honor Who I Used to Be

On International Women's Day, a Few Influential Women Poets

Today is International Women’s Day. I’ve written several posts on my blog about women who’ve inspired and influenced me. Today I thought I’d get specific, as I woke up thinking about Audre Lorde (as yes, one does when one is a librarian and a poetry lover!). I read this excerpt from her letters yesterday and it’s left me thinking about how women writers—specifically, women poets—have inspired and influenced me. poetry books
There are several male poets I love, but if I am honest I feel more at home with a woman poet. They write about what I write about; the best ones are fearless in exploring all aspects of both humanity in general and the experience of being a woman in all its constructs in this contemporary world. They are brave, moving, and stunning creators.


So, to celebrate, here’s a list of women poets whose work has pulled me through, lifted me up, revealed a truth, helped me feel heard, given me a key, along with a favorite quote just for fun.

Audre Lorde, who I’m starting with because these stanzas from her poem “Stations” is inspiring me greatly at this point in my life. She was a black feminist activist poet and is having a sort of Moment right now, where people are quoting her and rediscovering her work. I first read her in 1993, when I was in between my community college Associate’s degree and finishing my bachelors, and I’d scour the library for books about feminism, writing, poetry. I wanted to understand who the important women writers were, and her work felt important to me—and moving, as well.

Some women wait for themselves
Around the next corner
And call the empty spot peace
But the opposite of living
Is only not living
And the stars do not care.

Some women wait for something
To change and nothing
Does change
So they change



Marge Piercy, who I researched mostly because I wanted to irritate one of my least-liked professors when I was at BYU. I had both a poetry writing and a contemporary poetry class with him; in the writing class he made sure to tell us that he didn’t like poetry about women’s periods and we’d better, if we were women, stay clear of that topic. (See why I loved him so much?) In the contemporary poetry class we had to pick a poet to research in depth and then present to the class. I chose Marge Piercy because her poems are frank and outspoken and even when they are not about women’s bodies they seem imbued with women’s bodies. It would be a long list if I listed every poem I love by her, so I’ll just stick to one that has reminded me what writing is about since I discovered it during that project, “For the Young Who Want To”:

The real writer is one
who really writes. Talent
is an invention like phlogiston
after the fact of fire.
Work is its own cure. You have to
like it better than being loved.


Anne Stevenson, a British-American poet, is the first poet I ever shared on my blog. I think I read her poem “Himalayan Balsam” in The New Yorker and then I had to work fairly hard to find her work; some interlibrary loans were required, and finally I just started buying my own copies of her work. She writes so truly about motherhood that her poems became ways for me to understand what I was feeling as a mom to young children, and now as she writes poetry about aging I am finding her a guide again. And although it has been so many, many years since Haley was born, and our relationship has changed in such unexpected ways (or perhaps because of those changes), I continue to find in her poem “Poem for a Daughter” a sense of being understood in ways I didn’t, at first, know I needed understanding. I just re-read the whole thing again and it still gives me a lump in my throat.

A woman's life is her own
until it is taken away
by a first, particular cry.
Then she is not alone
but a part of the premises
of everything there is:
a time, a tribe, a war.
When we belong to the world
we become what we are.


Eavan Boland is a new favorite. I started reading her work (as in…more than just a few poems here and there in an anthology) after I started working as the collection developer for the poetry section at the library. She is an Irish poet and that is what drew me at first (Irish anything is almost irresistible to me), but what kept me interested was her actual poems. They are full of myth, history, experience; they explore feminism and do not apologize for how it connects to domesticity. I think if we could have a conversation she would understand my fascination with how history and landscape connect, how the stone in the garden has been there before us and won’t care when we’re gone. Again, hard to choose a favorite, but I love “Becoming Anne Bradstreet” because I also adore Anne Bradstreet and because it captures the way poetry makes connections.

We say home truths
Because her words can be at home anywhere—

At the source, at the end and whenever
The book lies open and I am again

An Irish poet watching an English woman
Become an American poet.


Susan Elizabeth Howe was my favorite professor at BYU. I suppose you could say she’s the least well-known of all this list…but to me, she’s had the most impact. Partly because her poems are reflective of my own landscape—many of them are set in Utah—but mostly because she is a real, live, walking, breathing poet. I’m sure she doesn’t remember me, but I have seen her a few times, at different readings and literary events, and I am always filled up with admiration for her—her work and her life. “Liberty Enlightening the World” means even more to me now that I’ve seen the Statue of Liberty in person:

My back and legs ache
And the book, suggesting more
Than it will ever give, weighs
A ton. I want to put it down,
Tell my visitors I know how
Their lives go. I never will.
I am huge, copper-weighted,
Supporting the status of icon.

I am limiting myself to five poets, even though there are more than fifty I could list. I know that not everyone loves poetry (and I wish more people did!) but for me, it is a necessary thing. A sort of magic, almost; someone somewhere writes a poem, somehow it gets shared with the world, somehow I find it, and then when I read it I am connected to the poet who wrote it as well as to the issues in my own life. The women poets whose work has influenced me are people I am deeply grateful for. I would be less, far less, without them.


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