Thoughts from Poets for International Women’s Day

What would happen if one woman told the truth about
. . . . her life?
. . . The world would split open

 – Muriel Rukeyser, from Käthe Kollwitz, part 3


Tell all the truth but tell it slant (1263)

by Emily Dickinson

Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —



— from A Woman is Talking to Death

by Judy Grahn


Death and disfiguration

One Christmas eve my lovers and I
we left the bar, driving home slow
there was a woman lying in the snow
by the side of the road. She was wearing
a bathrobe and no shoes, where were
her shoes? she had turned the snow
pink, under her feet. she was an Asian
woman, didn’t speak much English, but
she said a taxi driver beat her up
and raped her, throwing her out of his
what on earth was she doing there
on a street she helped to pay for
but doesn’t own?
doesn’t she know to stay home?

I am a pervert, therefore I’ve learned
to keep my hands to myself in public
but I was so drunk that night,
I actually did something loving
I took her in my arms, this woman,
until she could breathe right, and
my friends are perverts too
they touched her too
we all touched her.
“You’re going to be all right”
we lied. She started to cry
“I’m 55 years old” she said
and that said everything.

Six big policemen answered the call
no child in them.
they seemed afraid to touch her,
then grabbed her like a corpse and heaved her
on their metal stretcher into the van,
crashing and clumsy.
She was more frightened than before.
they were cold and bored.
‘don’t leave me’ she said.
‘she’ll be all right’ they said.
we left, as we have left all of our lovers
as all lovers leave all lovers
much too soon to get the real loving done.


a mock interrogation

Why did you get into the cab with him, dressed as you are?

I wanted to go somewhere.

Did you know what the cab driver might do
if you got into the cab with him?

I just wanted to go somewhere.

How many times did you
get into the cab with him?

I dont remember.

If you dont remember, how do you know it happened to you?


Still I Rise

by Maya Angelou

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room. 

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise. 

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries? 

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard. 

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise. 

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs? 

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.


Muriel Rukeyser (1913-1980) — American poet, social justice and feminist activist; best known for her poems with feminist, social justice and Judaic themes

“Käthe Kollwitz” from The Collected Poems of Muriel Rukeyser, © 2006 by Muriel Rukeyser – University of Pittsburgh Press


Emily Dickinson (1830 – 1886) — American’s best-known woman poet and one of the nation’s greatest and most original authors, she lived the life of a recluse in Amherst MA

“Tell all the truth but tell it slant” from The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson 
CreateSpace Publishing, 2013


Judy Grahn (1940 – ) – American poet, activist, and scholar. Born in Chicago, but grew up in New Mexico. She was discharged from the Air Force at age 21 for being openly gay. In the 1960s, she moved to San Francisco, co-founded the Women’s Press Collective in 1969, and was a founding member of the West Coast New Lesbian Feminist Movement

“A Woman is Talking to Death” from The Judy Grahn Reader, © 2006 by Judy Grahn –
Aunt Lute Books


Maya Angelou (1928-2014) – American poet, memoirist, and civil rights activist, born Marguerite Annie Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri

“Still I Rise” from And Still I Rise: A Book of Poems, © 1978 by Maya Angelou – Random House




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