Whether it is for activism or it is about lovers, poetry that is emotionally rich, speaks to the soul. It is an art form in which human language is used for its aesthetic qualities in addition to, or instead of, its notional and semantic content. Poems frequently rely on their effect on imagery, word association, and the musical qualities of the language used.

Historically, poetry has been a male-dominated sphere, and any poetry written by a woman could be seen as feminist. This might be true somewhat. In her famous essay “Poetry is Not a Luxury,” Audre Lorde expertly expresses the linkage of feminism and poetic verse:

“For women, then, poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action. Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought. The farthest external horizons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our poems, carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives.”

These are five poets who are all about empowering women.

1. Warsan Shire:

Warsan Shire

Shire is viewed as one of the outstanding poets of her time. She is London’s first young poet laureate. She was born in 1988 in Kenya to Somali parents. She immigrated to the United Kingdom at the age of one. Shire has a Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing. As of 2015, she primarily resides in London. In 2011, Shire released ‘Teaching My Mother How To Give Birth’, a poetry pamphlet. Beyoncé reads parts of Shire’s poems, including ‘For Women Who Are Difficult To Love’, ‘The Unbearable Weight of Staying (the End of the Relationship)’ and ‘Nail Technician as Palm Reader’ in interludes between songs in her 12-track, hour-long video album that premiered this week in 2014, She was part of a campaign to end female genital mutilation. She even has poems written on this. She believes awareness needs to be raised to ensure that the practice is eradicated. Some of her poems were recently featured on Beyonce’s new visual Album, Lemonade.

Excerpts from her poems are:

“My alone feels so good, I’ll only have you if you’re sweeter than my solitude.”
– “You want me to be a tragic backdrop so that you can appear to be illuminated, so that people can say ‘Wow, isn’t he so terribly brave to love a girl who is so obviously sad?’ You think I’ll be the dark sky so you can be the star? I’ll swallow you whole.”
– “It’s not my responsibility to be beautiful. I’m not alive for that purpose. My existence is not about how desirable you find me.”

2. Maya Angelou

maya angelou

Maya Angelou was born Marguerite Annie Johnson in April 4, 1928. She died May 28, 2014. She was an American poet, memoirist, and civil rights activist. She published seven autobiographies, three books of essays, and several books of poetry, and was credited with a list of plays, movies, and television shows spanning over 50 years. She received dozens of awards and more than 50 honorary degrees. The first autobiography she wrote, ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’, tells of her life up to the age of 17 and brought her international recognition and acclaim.
She became a poet and writer after a series of occupations as a young adult, including fry cook, prostitute, nightclub dancer and performer. She was called “the black woman’s poet laureate”, and her poems have been called the anthems of African Americans. She studied and began writing poetry at a young age, and used poetry and other great literature to cope with her rape as a young girl. She writes poems about women, knowing their worth and coping in these times. In her widely acclaimed poem, ‘Phenomenal woman’, she writes about the power of a woman. She refers to herself as a phenomenal woman.
She writes:
Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them
They say they still can’t see.
I say,
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman

Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

3. Ijeoma Umebinyuo


Ijeoma Umebinyuo was born and raised in Lagos, Nigeria. She is the author of ‘Questions for Ad’a, her first published collection of prose poems and poems. Her writings have been translated to Portuguese, Turkish, Spanish, Russian and French. She uses tumblr, instagram and poetry to share some of her poems which usually border on womanhood.

One of her poems:

We have loved ourselves despite being unwanted.
We have loved ourselves despite being ridiculed
and standards of beauty placed upon us.
We have written ourselves back to ourselves.
We have held pain, made it into a song,
a hymn of love, a daily prayer to us.
We have done it.

We have seen nieces, daughters,
little sisters hold a mirror to their body
and cried for another skin,
another face, another body.

Her published book ‘QUESTIONS FOR ADA’ has been described as defying words, embodying pain, the passion, and the power of love rising from the depths of our souls. “From lyrical lushness to smoky sensuality to raw truths, this tome of transforming verse is the book every woman wants to write but can’t until the broken mirrors of their lives have healed.” It is a bold celebration of womanhood.

4. Titilope Sonuga

titilope shonuga

Titilope Sonuga is an award winning poet, writer and performer who has graced stages across Nigeria and internationally. She was the winner of the 2011 Canadian Authors’ Association Emerging Writer Award for her first collection of poems, Down To Earth. Titilope Sonuga’s rare combination of authenticity, emotional intelligence and soft-heartedness naturally extends beyond the bounds of a single poem, or even poetic performance. She is an ambassador for Intel’s ‘She Will Connect Program in Nigeria’. The program is dedicated to empowering women and girls toward greater technological literacy, commerce and opportunity. Titilope’s influence helps to amplify the power of their voices and perspectives within the local and global economy, enhancing their ability to shape the future of their communities in new and innovative ways. A favorite poem of hers, ‘Hide and Seek’, deals with recent tragedies and crises in Nigeria including the Yobe Massacre, the Nyanya bombings, and the 200+ Chibok girls.

5. Alice Walker

alice walker

Alice Walker is an American novelist, short story writer, poet, and activist. She wrote the critically acclaimed novel, ‘The Color Purple’ for which she won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. She is a defender of both human rights, and of rights of all living beings. She is a prolific writer, and travels the world to stand on the side of the poor, and the economically, spiritually and politically oppressed. She also stands, however, on the side of the revolutionaries, teachers and leaders whom she believes seek change and transformation of the world. She writes poems and novels on women empowerment. The poem, “A Woman is Not a Potted Plant,” written by Alice Walker, explains how women aren’t stationed in one place based on their gender, race, nationality, family, or husband. She writes: “a woman is wilderness unbounded holding the future between each breath walking the earth only because she is free and not creeper vine or tree. Nor even honeysuckle or bee”.

Author: Ope Adedeji