21 Comments

Lurker request: feminist poetry for teens

I am a secondary English teacher in Queensland and am trying to expose my students to some feminist poetry, particularly if it of the protest kind, but all the poems that I tried to pass by my P&C committee have been shot down as being too ‘adult’. I was wondering if you (or anyone for that matter) were able to give me a few suggestions.

Any kind of help would be greatly appreciated. I want my kids to be aware of feminism and what it means, especially in a place where there is no exposure to it whatsoever.

Anybody got anything?

NB:
Seconday school – in Australia generally primary school is Years K-6, secondary school is years 7-12 (there is some variation between states, but it is minor)
P&C Committee = Parents & Citizens Association committee associated with a particular school

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writer, singer, webwrangler, blogger, comedy tragic | about.me/vivsmythe

21 comments on “Lurker request: feminist poetry for teens

  1. It’s not a body of work/paperbook, but I thought the poem I pointed to on Hoyden recently was bloody marvellous.

    “More About Them.”

    I think it would be terrific for high school girls who are being bombarded with commodification of their bodies, separation into parts, catcalling, and all the struggling with body issues that are wrapped up into teen years.

  2. (And, though this is a sideline: since when did P&C committees get censorship rights over the syllabus, and what was considered too “adult” to be taught in high school? This might be more appropriate for a separate thread, but I found this really alarming.)

  3. Two of my favorite activist poets: Audre Lorde and Adrienne Rich. Audre Lorde has the marvelous poem about how the master’s tools won’t dismantle the master’s house; Adrienne Rich’s poetry tends to be less overtly

    Lucille Clifton – deals with feminist themes, but is probably also too “adult.” (What?)

    Cherrie Moraga – deals with the intersectionality of race with sexism and homophobia.

    Moraga’s poems can also be found in an anthology called This Bridge Called My Back, which is an excellent teaching resource if you can get your hands on a copy (it’s out of print). It’s full of protest poems and essays and awesomeness.

    Those poets are all contemporary American writing in or around 2nd wave feminism. If you keep getting blocked by your committee, though, you may have to be sneaky about introducing feminist ideas through poets who precede that point in history… like Edna St. Vincent Millay, whose sonnets might get the stamp of approval even though she’s writing about sexual agency and independence.

  4. Oh dear. That line should have read “Rich’s poetry tends to be less overtly feminist than her essays, but perhaps that’s all the better for getting her by the committee.”

  5. I love “Barbie Doll” by Marge Piercy and “Fat is not a Fairy Tale” –I forget the poet, but you can probably google it.

  6. Have you checked out fictionpress.com? My daughter loves FanFiction and posts on both these sites.

  7. “Things I Have to Tell You” edited by Betsy Franco is a great collection of writing (mostly poetry if I’m remembering correctly – it’s been several years since I read it – and a bit of prose) all by teenage girls. Every piece of writing is more or less feminist (some is explicitly feminist, some is espousing feminist ideals without labeling it as such).

  8. I Wouldn’t Thank You for a Valentine was released both here in the US and in the UK, and I know my local library has it in the children’s section. If you want to take a look at a few pages, it’s on Google Books.

  9. Ack, it’s YA-filed, my bad, not children’s.

  10. “Paper Matches” by Pauline Jiles automatically came to mind: http://www.fertilefield.org/articles/archives/000038.html

  11. Ani DiFranco!

    (also: Peaches! Liz Phaire! Various Sarah Silverman! Pansy Division! Well, maybe not Pansy Division)

  12. how would i contact her directly with ideas?

  13. I can forward her your email addy if you like.

  14. I love Alfonsina Storni, a love that I wrote about here – check the end of the post for a link to the English translation. Gabriela Mistral is also good.

  15. I’d recommend Julia Alvarez–esp. the collection “The woman I kept to myself”. Not all the poems are explicitly feminist, but have feminist themes. (However, for some, I’d recommend knowing a bit of spanish or having a dictionary handy, because significant parts are in spanish)

  16. They’d also be Anne Kingsmill Finch, for example the introduction (in verse) to Miscellany Poems (1713).

  17. The Raving Beauties were a group of three actresses who had a TV show in the UK in the 80s in which they performed poems about feminism and being a woman. They collected the poems into two anthologies – In the pink, the poems they did on the show, and No holds barred, which also contains lots of poems that women started sending them.

    They’re really good books and an excellent source of good poems to teach, read and discuss – I really recommend them. I loved them as a teenager and copied lots of the poems into my diary. I don’t know how hard it would be to get hold of copies of the books, but Amazon.com lists used copies…

  18. Carol Ann Duffy. One of the few obviously feminist poets regularly included in GCSE or A level curriculum over here in the UK. She’s written quite a lot of poetry about women from a feminist perspective, a good example being the book of poems specifically about the women (real or invented) behind famous men in history (for example Shakespeare) that have been forgotten or held back.

    Her poems are sometimes explicit, and I think that they’re best enjoyed out of the classroom when one is a bit more mature. Maybe it’s because he ones on the syllabus are often really safe, maybe it’s because some points take more maturity to appreciate fully,but she’s not normally popular with pupils. But even if a student is young and not yet ready for the finer points of feminism, the variation in the themes of her poetry mean she’s well worth a look.

    It’s a crying shame she wasn’t made Poet Laureate in 1999. Word is that it was seen as just too radical to have an openly homosexual poet Laureate. WTF?

  19. A really good example of an Australian feminist poet it Kate Jennings – this is one of my favourite of her poems:

    Couples by Kate Jennings

    this is a song an epithalamium it is also
    a requiem this a poem about couples it
    is called racked and ranked
    the title comes from william faulkner
    who said

    ‘and thank God you can flee, can escape from that
    massy five-foot thick maggot-cheesy solidarity which
    overlays the earths, in which men and women in couples
    are racked and ranked like ninepins.’

    this is a poem for couples from which i cannot escape
    this is a poem for people who are not couples but who
    want to be couples from which i cannot escape a poem
    for all you out there people who are coupling up or
    breaking up just to couple up again and giving me
    second prize because

    kate jennings, lose him, weep him, couldn’t catch a man
    much less keep him

    couples create obstacle courses to prevent me from doing
    all sorts of things easily
    couples make sure i’m not comfortable with myself because
    i’m only half a potential couple
    couples point accusing right index fingers at me
    couples make me guilty of loneliness, insecurity, or
    worse still, lack of ambition.

    what do I do at the end of the day?
    lose him, weep him, think of catching a man,
    and eating him

    Margaret Atwood also writes poetry, and it might be interesting to give the students a look at Canadian literature through her work, something that IIRC doesn’t get looked at much in Australian schools, even though a lot of the cultural similarites are there and are quite striking.

    Finally, in addition to the other really great US-American poets here, it might also be worth looking into the fact that Ani di Franco (singer/songerwriter) published her first book of poetry in 2007. It’s called ‘Verses’, IIRC, and should be available over Amazon.

  20. Have you considered using some of the lyrics from the songs that are on the album “Free to Be You and Me?”

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