Since time immemorial, men held the sole authority when it came to the field of the arts, literature and philosophy. Back then, they could not fathom the idea of women as thinking creatures. This became the reason why all manner of knowledge and creative prowess, like the art of poetry, was dominated by men. However, women’s literature, specifically women’s poetry, began to rise and develop hand-in-hand with the various waves of the feminist movement: from the right to suffrage to equal treatment in society.
First Muted Voices of Women
Unknown to many, even during the Medieval and Renaissance period, there were already learned women, albeit these women were very few and often either in the classes of the aristocrats or the religious. However, during this time, womankind already understood the power of the written word. That is why many of them took advantage of their literacy to gain as much knowledge that they could from written materials. The early women writers, from the 12th century to the early 20th, experienced much fear and discrimination. The idea of literature written by women was so ridiculous to a cultured society that their works were often remained unpublished, belittled or they had to write under a man’s name. This was the case for the Brontë sisters, Louisa May Alcott, and George Eliot.
Great Women in Poetry
Despite the lack of expectations by a society ruled by men, many women still shone in the field of literature, and several women poets arose to find their place in the literary canon. The first among them is the Greek poetess, Sappho whose poems about love and sexuality managed to reach us through copies of her poetry in other literary works.
The Brontë sisters of 19th century England are now mostly known for their novels, but they also wrote poems that were published posthumously. From the same period in England, there were also the poets Elizabeth Barrett Browning, made famous by her romantic sonnets, and Christina Rosetti, known for her poem, “Goblin Market.”
Women’s literature in America cannot be complete without mentioning the poetess, Emily Dickinson. Sadly, her numerous and highly-acclaimed poems, known for their deviation from the classical style of poetry writing, were only published after her death. She was followed by the thought-provoking works of poets, Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton.
The Poetry of Colored Women
Much of feminist poetry talk about the experiences of women in their position as the lesser sex in comparison to the men. They often speak about women’s desire for recognition and equality as human beings with the same capacity as thinking and feeling individuals. Another is the realisation of equal rights as men for women when it comes to the right to vote, having the freedom of choice and in pursuing their own dreams and aspirations.
The poetry of women of colour is especially distinct when it comes to the ideas of freedom and choice as their narratives as women are tied intricately with their history of slavery and racial discrimination. Most critics and readers could not hide their disbelief in the idea of a woman slave named Phillis Wheatley being able to read and write poems. Several centuries and decades after her, the struggles of women and in various races could still be read in the writings of Gwendolyn Brooks, Maya Angelou, and Alice Walker.
Women’s Contemporary Poetry
At present, women’s poetry continues to blossom as more than the issues of gender, race, and equality, there is also themes of individuality, sexuality, and societal roles to write about. Even if the feminist movement in society and literature has paved the way for better treatment and opportunities for women, it is not equally felt by all women in all parts of the world.
Contemporary poets like Nikki Giovanni and Mary Oliver continue the tradition of poems that deal with the self, in relation to nature and society. Meanwhile, young poets like Lang Leav, Megan Falley, and Rupi Kaur brings to the poet’s stage the emotional dilemmas and challenges by experienced by the young people of today.