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A Tribute to Female Poets  was originally published on

1. “Phenomenal Woman” by Maya Angelou

“Phenomenal Woman” by Maya Angelou

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.

I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size

But when I start to tell them,

They think I’m telling lies.

I say,

It’s in the reach of my arms

The span of my hips,

The stride of my step,

The curl of my lips.

I’m a woman


Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.

I walk into a room

Just as cool as you please,

And to a man,

The fellows stand or

Fall down on their knees.

Then they swarm around me,

A hive of honey bees.

I say,

It’s the fire in my eyes,

And the flash of my teeth,

The swing in my waist,

And the joy in my feet.

I’m a woman


Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.

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.

Now you understand

Just why my head’s not bowed.

I don’t shout or jump about

Or have to talk real loud.

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 of my care,

‘Cause I’m a woman


Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.

2. “Heart to Heart” by Rita Dove

“Heart to Heart” by Rita Dove

It’s neither red

nor sweet.

It doesn’t melt

or turn over,

break or harden,

so it can’t feel




It doesn’t have

a tip to spin on,

it isn’t even


just a thick clutch

of muscle,


mute. Still,

I feel it inside

its cage sounding

a dull tattoo:

I want, I want—

but I can’t open it:

there’s no key.

I can’t wear it

on my sleeve,

or tell you from

the bottom of it

how I feel. Here,

it’s all yours, now—

but you’ll have

to take me,


3. “Boy, Did She Dance” by Danee Riggs

“Boy, Did She Dance” by Danee Riggs

She danced…

To African drums and hip-hop beats

Feet bare, she danced through city streets

On broken glass and bottle tops

Down through the centuries, non-stop

Over cobblestones and blades of grass

Suburbs and ghettos, discarded trash

From the ruins of ancient cities, to high rises on the east side

And throughout her journeys she laughed and she cried

Never once did she surrender her pride.

Passed pieces of her soul on down to her daughters

Cleansed each of her sons with her purified waters

And if you look closely you’ll see the lines on her face

While her body still moves with a youthful grace

And she danced ‘til salty tears stung her eyes

Trying to erase the horrors she’d witnessed in life

Her arms and legs moved in rhythm to cover

The pain from the hand of a bitter sweet lover

The loss of innocence, devastations inflicted

The wars that claimed those of her lineage enlisted

Boy, did she dance!

She danced the dance for all women

‘Cause she felt all of their pain

A performance beautiful and complex

And when nothing remained

But exhaustion, she did not drop to the floor

But rested her body, bruised now and sore

Yet still unbroken even through the birth of a nation

And though blessed with the privilege of mothering creation

She also had the wisdom to know when to lay

Until the sun rose again and she’d dance another day…

4. “And I Have You” by Nikki Giovanni

“And I Have You” by Nikki Giovanni

Rain has drops

Sun has shine

Moon has beams

That make you mine

Rivers have banks

Sands for shores

Hearts have heartbeats

That make me yours

Needles have eyes

Though pins may prick

Elmer has glue

To make things stick

Winter has Spring

Stockings feet

Pepper has mint

To make it sweet

Teachers have lessons

Soup du jour

Lawyers sue bad folks

Doctors cure

All and all

This much is true

You have me

And I have you

5. “Desire” by Alice walker

“Desire” by Alice walker

My desire

is always the same; wherever Life

deposits me:

I want to stick my toe

& soon my whole body

into the water.

I want to shake out a fat broom

& sweep dried leaves

bruised blossoms

dead insects

& dust.

I want to grow


It seems impossible that desire

can sometimes transform into devotion;

but this has happened.

And that is how I’ve survived:

how the hole

I carefully tended

in the garden of my heart

grew a heart

to fill it.

6. “Ode To Neptune” by Phillis Wheatley

“Ode To Neptune” by Phillis Wheatley

Voyage to England


WHILE raging tempests shake the shore,

While AElus’ thunders round us roar,

And sweep impetuous o’er the plain

Be still, O tyrant of the main;

Nor let thy brow contracted frowns betray,

While my Susanna skims the wat’ry way.


The Pow’r propitious hears the lay,

The blue-ey’d daughters of the sea

With sweeter cadence glide along,

And Thames responsive joins the song.

Pleas’d with their notes Sol sheds benign his ray,

And double radiance decks the face of day.


To court thee to Britannia’s arms

Serene the climes and mild the sky,

Her region boasts unnumber’d charms,

Thy welcome smiles in ev’ry eye.

Thy promise, Neptune keep, record my pray’r,

Not give my wishes to the empty air.

7. “A Woman Speaks” by Andre Lorde

“A Woman Speaks” by Andre Lorde

Moon marked and touched by sun

my magic is unwritten

but when the sea turns back

it will leave my shape behind.

I seek no favor

untouched by blood

unrelenting as the curse of love

permanent as my errors

or my pride

I do not mix

love with pity

nor hate with scorn

and if you would know me

look into the entrails of Uranus

where the restless oceans pound.

I do not dwell

within my birth nor my divinities

who am ageless and half-grown

and still seeking

my sisters

witches in Dahomey

wear me inside their coiled cloths

as our mother did


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.

8. “Homage to My Hips” by Lucille Clifton

“Homage to My Hips” by Lucille Clifton

these hips are big hips.

they need space to

move around in.

they don’t fit into little

petty places. these hips

are free hips.

they don’t like to be held back.

these hips have never been enslaved,

they go where they want to go

they do what they want to do.

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

9. “La Vie C’est La Vie” by Jessie Redmon Fauset

“La Vie C’est La Vie” by Jessie Redmon Fauset

On summer afternoons I sit

Quiescent by you in the park,

And idly watch the sunbeams gild

And tint the ash-trees’ bark.

Or else I watch the squirrels frisk

And chaffer in the grassy lane;

And all the while I mark your voice

Breaking with love and pain.

I know a woman who would give

Her chance of heaven to take my place;

To see the love-light in your eyes,

The love-glow on your face!

And there’s a man whose lightest word

Can set my chilly blood afire;

Fulfilment of his least behest

Defines my life’s desire.

But he will none of me, Nor I

Of you. Nor you of her. ‘Tis said

The world is full of jests like these.–

I wish that I were dead.

10. “Conversation” by Ai Ogawa

“Conversation” by Ai Ogawa

We smile at each other

and I lean back against the wicker couch.

How does it feel to be dead? I say.

You touch my knees with your blue fingers.

And when you open your mouth,

a ball of yellow light falls to the floor

and burns a hole through it.

Don’t tell me, I say. I don’t want to hear.

Did you ever, you start,

wear a certain kind of dress

and just by accident,

so inconsequential you barely notice it,

your fingers graze that dress

and you hear the sound of a knife cutting paper,

you see it too

and you realize how that image

is simply the extension of another image,

that your own life

is a chain of words

that one day will snap.

Words, you say, young girls in a circle, holding hands,

and beginning to rise heavenward

in their confirmation dresses,

like white helium balloons,

the wreathes of flowers on their heads spinning,

and above all that,

that’s where I’m floating,

and that’s what it’s like

only ten times clearer,

ten times more horrible.

Could anyone alive survive it?

11. “Flounder” by Natasha Trethewey

“Flounder” by Natasha Trethewey

Here, she said, put this on your head.

She handed me a hat.

you ’bout as white as your dad,

and you gone stay like that.

Aunt Sugar rolled her nylons down

around each bony ankle,

and I rolled down my white knee socks

letting my thin legs dangle,

circling them just above water

and silver backs of minnows

flitting here then there between

the sun spots and the shadows.

This is how you hold the pole

to cast the line out straight.

Now put that worm on your hook,

throw it out and wait.

She sat spitting tobacco juice

into a coffee cup.

Hunkered down when she felt the bite,

jerked the pole straight up

reeling and tugging hard at the fish

that wriggled and tried to fight back.

A flounder, she said, and you can tell

’cause one of its sides is black.

The other is white, she said.

It landed with a thump.

I stood there watching that fish flip-flop,

switch sides with every jump.

12. “UNTITLED” by Wanda Phipps

“UNTITLED” by Wanda Phipps

language is essentially

the same

under differences

people are essentially


my hands and feet

are always colder

than the rest

of my body

his hair

all over his body

is very long

and fine

and energy

is always

separate ends

of the same


her pale toes

were black

with mud

that night

and i saw

the lawn sprinklers

on broadway

water pedestrians


if they


13. “A Song in the Front Yard” by Gwendolyn Brooks

“A Song in the Front Yard” by Gwendolyn Brooks

I’ve stayed in the front yard all my life.

I want a peek at the back

Where it’s rough and untended and hungry weed grows.

A girl gets sick of a rose.

I want to go in the back yard now

And maybe down the alley,

To where the charity children play.

I want a good time today.

They do some wonderful things.

They have some wonderful fun.

My mother sneers, but I say it’s fine

How they don’t have to go in at quarter to nine.

My mother, she tells me that Johnnie Mae

Will grow up to be a bad woman.

That George’ll be taken to Jail soon or late

(On account of last winter he sold our back gate).

But I say it’s fine. Honest, I do.

And I’d like to be a bad woman, too,

And wear the brave stockings of night-black lace

And strut down the streets with paint on my face.

14. “Black Woman” by Georgia Douglas Johnson

“Black Woman” by Georgia Douglas Johnson

Don’t knock at the door, little child,

I cannot let you in,

You know not what a world this is

Of cruelty and sin.

Wait in the still eternity

Until I come to you,

The world is cruel, cruel, child,

I cannot let you in!

Don’t knock at my heart, little one,

I cannot bear the pain

Of turning deaf-ear to your call

Time and time again!

You do not know the monster men

Inhabiting the earth,

Be still, be still, my precious child,

I must not give you birth!