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How many poetesses do you know?

Creación colectiva sobre la vida y obra de Sylvia Plath. © Teatro Matacandelas/Flickr

International Women’s Day is the perfect occasion to make a feminine knowledge check-up.

“First poetry is not my cup of tea, so guess for women’s place within…”, “Actually none”, “It is known for being a men’s world”, “I know few women writers but no poetess”, “Poetess? Does this word exist?”, “Let me think…George Sand?”.

The latter answer I collected was the ideal example : a woman forced to bear a men name to be able to publish her books. It is now the only feminine referenced that remains. Here are four others poetesses deserving fame that you should remember, not only on March 8th.


Fresco showing a woman so-called Sappho holding writing implements (wax tablet and stylus), from Pompeii, Naples National Archaeological Museum. © Carole Raddato/Flickr

This Greek girl is the inevitable reference. Sapphô is actually one of the first whose we found poetry writings and was prolific because it is believed she had composed around 10,000 lines. Plato was calling her the “tenth muse” as a sign of great admiration through much of antiquity. Beyond her poetry, she is well known as a symbol of love and desire between women – the term lesbian comes from her native island’s Lesbos and is an allusion to Sapphô.

Marceline Desbordes-Valmore

Marceline Desbordes-Valmore (1786–1859) painted by Constant-Joseph Desbordes, Musée de la Chartreuse de Douai. © Petermichaelgenner

Misunderstood visionary poetess, Marceline Desbordes-Valmore paved the way of romantic poetry long before Rimbaud or Verlaine. Avant-garde and pioneer she was already writing in 1833 a book telling the difficulty for a woman to be recognized as an artist.

Sylvia Plath

Creación colectiva sobre la vida y obra de Sylvia Plath. © Teatro Matacandelas/Flickr

Kiss me and you will see how important I am.

Emblematic figure of 20th century’s feminine genius, Sylvia Path is an American poetess well-known for her poems, her incredible beauty and her tumultuous relationship with Ted Hugues. She is credited with advancing the genre of confessional poetry and won a posthumous Pulitzer Prize for The Collected Poems in 1982 – few months after her suicide.

Maya Angelou

Poet and activist Maya Angelou addresses students and staff at Tennessee Technological University. © Brian Stansberry

Maya Angelou has the most impressive life, CV and contact book of this list. She worked with Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X in Civil Rights Movement, recited her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” at President Bill Clinton’s inauguration and made her autobiography illustrated by Jean-Michel Basquiat. She became a poet and writer after a series of occupations as a young adult, including fry cook, sex worker, nightclub dancer and performer, cast member of the opera Porgy and Bess, coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and journalist in Egypt and Ghana during the decolonization of Africa. Feminist and anti-racist, she influenced the hip-hop community and is now quoted by artists such as Kanye West, Nicki Minaj or Tupac Shakur.

And you, who would you add to this list?

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