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The third in our series of reading lists to celebrate National Poetry Month 2021.
These poems reflect the great breadth, beauty, and pain of womanhood and challenge the narrowness of the word’s definition. They trace womanhood’s intersections with class and race, subverting social expectations of the female body and the institution of marriage. And, in doing so, they examine the way that intergenerational trauma imprints on the body and the mind.
In this reading list, alongside other innovative and powerful poems, are 2019 Boston Review Annual Poetry Prize Finalist Rosa Angelica Martinez’s “Paradise Is Burning,” which considers worship and female lineage, and 2019 Poetry Prize semi-finalist K. Avvirin Gray’s “Two Poems” which enliven the ever-present voices of Black abolitionist and women’s rights activist Sojourner Truth and Greek mythological figure Antigone.
Together, these works urge us to think about the range of women’s voices in each of our lives, and their resounding power.
by Naomi Extra
I am safe I am safe I am safe
under a cloud of saxophone prayer
Sounds : like freedom
The Big Kind
• • •
Harambe for President (2016 Write-In Ballot)
by Destiny O. Birdsong
I’m bad at touch screens. I check the ballot
twice before pressing Vote. I don’t want
to do it wrong. And call me judgmental for hating
every hand who wrote in the name
of a beast.
• • •
Paradise Is Burning
by Rosa Angelica Martínez
And, there in all the timbre and refuge, we fall:
into the Santería
to worship the saints who will save us
into the beat of an unreal
into the rhyme of vacillation
into the loudness of el transformista,
to pray to the queens who will free us
• • •
Public indecency or this is why I’m insecure
by Azia Armstead
The bass player saw me first, dropping his jaw as he played.
The large O shapes of his mouth and eyes made me think
he said Oh shit! The bass player then tapped him, urging
him to look at yet another set of fan-girl breasts. And he did.
But his mouth didn’t form the smile I wanted nor a grin.
He just kept on singing. What did I expect?
• • •
by Heather Treseler
Because you have asked, because it remains difficult for me
to remove my clothes in daylight, I will give a brief account
of my body. (Isn’t that what the beloved yearns to read?
A history in which he or she becomes the defining actor,
longest chapter, catalyst, and ever-after.)
• • •
by K. Avvirin Gray
With he who called himself Prophet away in the city it was alright; all the birds were starlings and you considered less your son Peter’s fate, that he played dice with those Irish boys and assumed that dignified Negro’s name when cops asked why he was out late.
• • •
by Laren McClung
In a self-portrait she holds a pheasant
in the left hand & both stare stern—
one eye turned to the viewer, the other
drifting towards the horizon.
The brim of her straw hat doubles
as a golden halo surrounding her.
• • •
Rum & Rice
by Vi Khi Nao
My body is the wind passing through
You are my partial element of lust:
These liquid things between heat & thirst
Delirium in the 5th element
• • •
by Erinn Batykefer
under the microscope,
a medieval woman’s teeth
limned in blacklight blue,
her mouth glowing
like the abandoned
warehouses of 90s raves.
Ultramarine. A pigment
so precious, few
ever touched it.
• • •
by Oriana Tang
my mother used to say,
Look up, there’s the moon
following us home.
Then I grew up and learned everyone
has a relationship with the moon.
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