May I write words more naked than flesh, stronger than bone, more resilient than sinew, sensitive than nerve.” 

– Sappho ( c. 630 – c. 570 BC)

Poetry, like so many art forms, has a way of expressing the inexpressible and exposing human nature through musical rhythms, vivid imagery, and powerful metaphors. Throughout history, female poets have used their voices to be catalysts for social and political change, and their words are just as important today as they ever have been.

There are countless volumes of poetry written by women and non-binary people who deserve our praise and adoration, but we took some time to select some of the ones most inspiring us at this moment in time. These impactful poets range from the late 1800s all the way to the modern digital age, each with a different message that will inspire you to take action in your own life, to ignite social and political change, to reach out to a friend, or to take a stand for the environment we all share. 

If you’re new to poetry and want a little guidance, you can find our guide to reading poetry here. Or if you’re inspired and ready to pick up a pen, here’s everything you need to know about how to write poetry as a self-care practice!

1. Maya Angelou


To Read | Phenomenal Woman, Still I Rise, Caged Bird

Maya Angelou is essential reading: her political activism shines brightly through her words and inspires action. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the U.S., by President Barack Obama for her political and literary work.

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“When you see me passing,
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need for my care.
’Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.”

— Maya Angelou, Phenomenal Woman

2. Mary Oliver


To Read | Wild Geese, Breakage, Hummingbirds

For the nature lovers, Mary Oliver’s powerfully feminine poetry inspires quiet moments of reflections based on everyday occurrences. Her poems begin grounded in the real, natural world and turn simple moments into impactful and beautiful life lessons.

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“Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.”

— Mary Oliver, Wild Geese

3. Audre Lorde


To Read | A Woman Speaks, Recreation, Who Said It Was Simple

Audre Lorde was a passionate poet, dedicated to confronting the social injustices of racism, sexism, and homophobia through her work. Her poetry is powerfully rooted in her experiences as a black woman, a lesbian, a mother, and a lifelong warrior for equality.

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“I have been woman
for a long time
beware my smile
I am treacherous with old magic
and the noon’s new fury
with all your wide futures
I am
and not white.”

— Audre Lorde, A Woman Speaks

4. Rupi Kaur

(1992– )

To Read | Celebration, [you tell me], [how is it so easy for you]

Rupi Kaur is a #1 New York Times Bestselling Author who you’ve most likely stumbled across on Instagram. She’s a celebrated poet and stunning illustrator, and her concise, impactful words on womanhood and relationships will cut straight to your deepest emotions.

“the orange trees refused to blossom
unless we bloomed first
when we met
they wept tangerines
can’t you tell
the earth has waited its whole life for us”

— Rupi Kaur, Celebration

5. Joshua Jennifer Espinoza

(1987– )

To Read | This Is What Makes Us Worlds, Death Before Detransition, It Is Important To Be Something 

One of Joshua Jennifer Espinoza’s poems is called “Things Haunt,” which is the perfect way to describe her poetry: haunting, beautiful, powerful. She explores gender and the experience of being born in a human body—and reminds us all how connected our personal histories are to history as a whole.

“I paint my nails nice and pretty
and who cares. Who gives a shit.
I’m trying not to give a shit
but it doesn’t fit well on me.
I wear my clothes. I wear my body.
I walk out in the grass and turn red
at the sight of everything.”

— Joshua Jennifer Espinoza, It Is Important To Be Something

6. Edna St. Vincent Millay


To Read | The Penitent, Departure, Modern Declaration

Despite being the oldest poet on this list, Edna St. Vincent Millay’s work carries a wit and strength with it, making it timeless and accessible still today. Her work doesn’t shy away from issues of female expression, sexuality, or political progressivism.

“So I got up in anger,
And took a book I had,
And put a ribbon on my hair
To please a passing lad,
And, ‘One thing there’s no getting by—
I’ve been a wicked girl,’ said I:
’But if I can’t be sorry, why,
I might as well be glad!’”

— Edna St. Vincent Millay, The Penitent

7. Marge Piercy

(1936– )

To Read | The birthday of the world, To be of use, More Than Enough

As a feminist and a devotee of protecting our environment, Marge Piercy’s work is not subtle about the changes she wants to see in the world. Her work is grounded in nature and empowering in it’s calls to political and environmental action.

“No, this year I want to call
myself to task for what
I have done and not done
for peace. How much have
I dared in opposition?
How much have I put
on the line for freedom? ”

— Marge Piercy, The Birthday Of The World

8. Adrienne Rich


To Read | A Mark of Resistance, What Kind of Times Are These, Planetarium

Adrienne Rich’s powerful work spanned seven decades, and grew throughout her career into an influential feminist statement in free verse. Her poems range from straightforward to experimental, and she is a prominent figure in anti-war and pro-feminist movements thanks to her poetic political critique.

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“[I] can only fasten down
with this work of my hands,
these painfully assembled
stones, in the shape of nothing
that has ever existed before.
A pile of stones: an assertion
that this piece of country matters
for large and simple reasons.
A mark of resistance, a sign.”

— Adrienne Rich, A Mark of Resistance

9. Rita Dove

(1952– )

To Read | Demeter’s Prayer To HadesAdolescence-III Have Been a Stranger in a Strange Land

Rita Dove is a Pulitzer prize-winning poet whose work pulls from her personal history and other art forms to weave enchanting stories and create wildly vivid images. At just forty years old, she was named US Poet Laureate in 1993, the youngest to date. 

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“ There are no curses – only mirrors
held up to the souls of gods and mortals.
And so I give up this fate, too.
Believe in yourself,
go ahead – see where it gets you.”

— Rita Dove, Demeter’s Prayer To Hades

10. Lucille Clifton


To Read | homage to my hips, poem in praise of menstruation, won’t you celebrate with me

Known for being able to say a lot within a concise poem, Lucille Clifton is a powerful poet to have on hand when you only have a few moments to read (and re-read) a poem. Her celebrated and award-winning poetry boldly celebrates women and explores African American family life and experience.

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“these hips are mighty hips.
these hips are magic hips.
i have known them
to put a spell on a man and
spin him like a top!”

— Lucille Clifton, homage to my hips

Emily McGowan is the Editorial Director at The Good Trade. She studied Creative Writing and Business at Indiana University, and has over ten years of experience as a writer and editor in sustainability and lifestyle spaces. Since 2017, she’s been discovering and reviewing the top sustainable home, fashion, beauty, and wellness products so readers can make their most informed decisions. Her editorial work has been recognized by major publications like The New York Times and BBC Worklife. You can usually find her in her colorful Los Angeles apartment journaling, caring for her rabbits and cat, or gaming. Say hi on Instagram!