My historical work on lesbian-feminism tends to cover work that happened in my lifetime, but with this selection of five poems to celebrate National Poetry Month, I am reaching farther back into history. The contemporary scene of feminist poetry is vibrant and engaging—and so is the history of feminist poetry. This series offers five poems by women poets born between 1861 and 1922. A longer history of poetry demonstrates how feminists send messages across the ages.
Contemporary pundits declare this moment of #MeToo and #TimesUp as a serious reckoning with sexual harassment—and hopefully an end to its scourge. While feminists are hopeful about change, women have been responding to sexual harassment for generations.
Poet Genevieve Taggard, born in 1894 in Washington state, was a fierce feminist. Like Mary Weston Fordham, who we met last week, Taggard’s poetry exposes the physical and sexual degradations that women endure as well as offering visions of feminist futures. (Her poem “Long View” is one of my favorite poems; listen to Taggard read it here.) In this poem, “The Quiet Woman,” Taggard captures fury and anger “like a surly tiger” of a woman fending off an unwanted advance. Taggard’s poem demonstrates the compression of poetry: in just six lines, the poet packs a rage of emotions that feel as they burst through the language into the heart of the reader.
“The Quiet Woman,” while very different in its language and presentation, speaks across decades to Andrea Gibson’s performance with Katie Wirsing of the poem, To The Men Catcalling My Girlfriend as I’m Walking Beside Her. For many generations now, poetry demonstrates its capacities to give voice to women’s experiences and respond with power and defiance to the conditions of women’s lives.
The Quiet Woman
I will defy you down until my death
With cold body, indrawn breath;
Terrible and cruel I will move with you
Like a surly tiger. If you knew
Why I am shaken, if fond you could see
All the caged arrogance in me,
You would not lean so boyishly, so bold,
To kiss my body, quivering and cold.
“The Quiet Woman” is from Genevieve Taggard’s 1922 collection For Eager Lovers.