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In Memory of a Banyan Tree: Poems of the Outside World: 1985 to 2022
Three Wooden Trunks
The Country Where Everyone’s Name Is Fear: Selected Poems
NASTY WOMEN POETS: An Unapologetic Anthology of Subversive Verse  
  Grace Bauer & Julie Kane

ISBN 978-0-9981963-3-6     $24  /  $28 (Canada)     5.5 x 8.5       

376 pp      
PUB DATE: SEPT 2017       Poetry


This timely collection of poems speaks not just to the current political climate and the man who is responsible for its title, but to the stereotypes and expectations women have faced dating back to Eve, and to the long history of women resisting those limitations. The nasty women poets included here talk back to the men who created those limitations, honor foremothers who offered models of resistance and survival, rewrite myths, celebrate their own sexuality and bodies, and the girlhoods they survived. They sing, swear, swagger, and celebrate, and stake claim to life and art on their own terms.

The anthology includes work from Kim Addonizio, Jan Beatty, Kelly Cherry, Annie Finch, Alice Friman, Allison Joseph, Marilyn Kallet, Melissa Kwasny, Shirley Geok-lin Lim, Jessica Mehta, Lesléa Newman, Nuala O’Connor, Alicia Suskin Ostriker, Melinda Palacio, Jennifer Perrine, Marge Piercy, Lucinda Roy, Maureen Seaton, Rochelle Spencer, A.E. Stallings, Stacey Waite, Diane Wakoski, Müesser Yeniay, and a fabulous coven of other women’s voices.











About the Author

GRACE BAUER's history of resistance began when a nun told her that the greatest thing a girl could grow up to be was a virgin. Having failed at that particular life goal, she became a poet instead. Her books include MEAN/TIME, The Women at the Well, Nowhere All At Once, Retreats & Recognitions, as well as several chapbooks. She hates being called Miss, Ma’am, or Little Lady, but these days, takes nasty as a compliment. The idea for this anthology came to her in the shower.

As the first female George Bennett Fellow in Writing at newly coed Phillips Exeter Academy in the 1970s, JULIE KANE got mighty tired of hearing “fellow” jokes. Fast forward four decades, and it looks like déjà vu all over again. A past National Poetry Series winner, Fulbright Scholar, and Poet Laureate of Louisiana, she has published four books and two chapbooks of poetry, including Rhythm & Booze and Paper Bullets.






Nasty Women Poets: An Unapologetic Anthology of Subversive Verse
Edited by Grace Bauer & Julie Kane
(Lost Horse Press, 2017)

Bodies, beauty, sisterhood, sex, and sexism are only a few of the subjects pursued from their historical and mythological roots to their many modern iterations in this hard-hitting volume, which is at once profoundly political and inextricably personal. Nasty Women Poets takes its title from the televised words of a prominent political figure (“whose name,” Bauer and Kane say, “we shall not utter here”), an act of reclamation and affirmation that is echoed by the talented voices and moving verse within.


Issue #19
A Review of Nasty Women Poets
Nasty Women Poets: An Unapologetic Anthology of Subversive Verse
edited by Grace Bauer and Julie Kane
Lost Horse Press, 376 pages, $24

Review by Freesia McKee

Feminists have known for a long time that we work best when we work together, centering our stories, their differences and sameness. At 376 pages, Nasty Women Poets is a literary march for women, each writer lifting her pen to be counted, casting her votes. For me as a woman writer, the acknowledgement of mutual support has been unequivocally powerful. One of feminist poetry’s most poignant functions names support’s necessity by calling out its absence. In witnessing pain and desperation on the page, we acknowledge mutual experience. Contributor Susan Nguyen’s poem “All The Good Women are Gone” is one example:

This is when you are driving west
and you ask your phone:
Does coffee make anxiety worse?
What are to-be verbs?
How long will 18 mg of Adderall last?
How do stop yourself from crying?
Answer: distract yourself with pain.

I read this anthology over several weeks in the Fall of 2017, carrying the book in my backpack and bag, on my bicycle and in my car. I read this book after attending the Florida March for Black Women, which filled Miami’s streets. I read the Nasty Women Poets anthology reclined with my arm around my girlfriend. I read this book when I should have been working and read this book when I should have been reading other works. I read this book as students filed into class, one wearing a t-shirt with the word “FEMINIST” written across the front, another sporting heels and a Milo Yiannopoulos book. As Lisa Mecham writes in her poem “Refraction,” “I’m always in the wrong spot”—the spots, with gratitude, we see reflected on the page.

That was the beauty for me, as a woman reader of such an anthology, that I saw myself in so many moments of these poems. They are about the daily lives of women. These poems are a promise: “. . . if you think nothing &/ no one can / listen I love you joy is coming” (Kim Addonizio, “To The Woman Crying Uncontrollably in the Next Stall”).

Unexpected harmonies arise in Nasty Women Poets, echoing the music of resistance at the 2017 Women’s March. The anthology is divided into ten sections. Each is named after a popular song from the last several decades. As evidenced by the section titles, the book is one of both humor and gravity. The poems are curated in an attempt to reflect our varied lives, how our bodies journey through triumph and danger, controlled in and out of our hands.

I was surprised by the amount of highly structured verse in this book. It finally occurred to me that this formality reflects the ways women are told that we must stay in our female boxes. One example is Lesléa Newman’s “The Coming Storm,” which goes, “Outside pounding sleep / Inside pounding hearts/ . . . Outside slick roads / Inside slick skin / . . . Outside nasty weather / Inside nasty women.” Expressing “nastiness” within a formal poem is a middle finger to the establishment, to those who wouldn’t care to see us shine, to see us published, to those who choose not to love us, those who see our bodies as objects and our poems as too angry, too nagging, too narrow, and too nasty.

This anthology also does some innovative work with form. Readers will find poems that break traditional rules such as Jan Beatty’s controversial and exquisitely skillful “The Shooter” from her 2008 collection Red Sugar. One of the few poems I’ve ever seen that effectively incorporates hashtags and even emoji is Nordette N. Adams’s “Digital Anthropologists Find Our Hashtags,” a careful reflection on police murders that invokes a major feminist issue: racist violence. Adams writes,

Dear #SandraBland, If only the cop . . .
Dear #MotherEmmanuelAME, I will rememb—
Dear #NimaliHenry and #FreddieGray, I believe that it . . .
Dear #ICantBreathe a.k.a. #EricGarner, I—We—I am sorry
Because . . . more names.

In “Job (War Survivor’s Guilt),” Hope Wabuke writes of “a silent grace” in the spirit of women’s pain, of empathy. Nasty Women Poets is an affirmation that we are not alone, that there is power in numbers, in numbers of words and numbers of women. Shedding light on the nastiness of oppression, on the nasty messiness of pride and triumph, Amy Miller writes in “I Am Over Here Sobbing”:

and I am over here sobbing
at the history writing itself
and for once I am singing
the national anthem, that part
at the baseball game where I normally
lower my eyes in silence, my hand
nowhere near my heart, as I try
not to think of bursting or rockets
or bombs but instead rest my eyes
on the grass with its millions
of green blades patiently growing

We need this anthology for the world we live in. I can’t help but think of the NFL, paragon of male supremacy and the capitalist objectification of black bodies, and Colin Kaepernick’s kneel that rocked the country, the president calling him a “son of a bitch,” Kaep’s mother tweeting “Guess that I’m a proud bitch!” I can’t help but think of San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz wearing a shirt on television emblazoned with the words “Nasty Woman.”

Though this anthology is designed to appeal to a broad audience of nasty women, readers who are also writers may see themselves especially represented. This anthology exists outside of the literary world, but also inside of it. “Fuck you, Bukowski,” Katie Bickham writes in “To Charles Bukowski, From a Young Southern Girl with Nice Manners.” Alice Friman writes in “The Poet,” “. . . I wish / I could rewrite this story, saying / no one nodded off or walked out, / saying the big man’s poems were enough / to fly us beyond judgment’s orbit/ to where the real stars burn.”

Nasty Women Poets is modeled, in part, after three 1973 women’s poetry anthologies (Rising Tides, No More Masks, and We Become New). Several germinal feminist writers from those first anthologies including Hilda Raz, Marge Piercy, and Diane Wakowski appear in Nasty Women Poets as well.

This nod to the feminist anthologies of the 1970s is a beautiful opportunity to reflect on the ways that feminism and our society at large has progressed alongside the ways we have stagnated and regressed. In light of the disturbing reality that 53% of white women voted for Trump, how do white feminists recommit to a relentless interrogation of whiteness? How do white women writers work in an anti-white-supremacist manner?

Poets are called to continue to write about the politics of inclusivity. How do cisgender women editors confront our gender essentialism? Not every woman has a vagina and breasts; embracing that reality contains promise and freedom for each of us. How do we center our differences in our journeys towards inclusivity and equity? As feminist poets may have wondered in 1973, how do we create anthologies that include increasing breadths of experience across disability, gender, race, ethnicity, language, and more? How do we continue to center and publish the narratives of women? The sex worker, the homeless woman asking for change, the woman asking for everything, the woman in prison, the woman with a child in prison, the woman facing addiction, the woman at the abortion clinic, the woman who won’t leave her abuser, the woman who left her abuser, the woman we want to leave the room, the woman cleaning the floors, the woman in the mirror.

Reading this anthology gave me hope that we can carry forth these conversations. I finished Nasty Women Poets with a passionate litany of questions. Whether you attended the 2017 Women’s March, watched it online like I did, or just heard murmurs after the fact, reading Nasty Women Poets might make you feel the way you did when you learned that half a million people marched with nasty insistence that January day. Carry these 215 nasty poems in your backpack, your purse, your diaper bag, your back pocket, or your glove compartment as a warm-up for before the fight.


Interview with the Editors of Nasty Women Poets

Sarah Fawn talks to Grace Bauer and Julie Kane, editors of Nasty Women Poets: An Unapologetic Anthology of Subversive Verse (2017, Lost Horse Press).

Sarah Fawn: How did this project come about? How did the results of the election and transition impact the anthology?

Grace Bauer: As I say on the back cover, the idea for the anthology came to me in the shower—a few weeks after 45’s “nasty woman” comment during the debates. The phrase had quickly become a hashtag, a meme, a t-shirt, etc. and one day the widely circulated phrase just hit me with “poets” added to it. I knew there were plenty of them out there, and thought it might be interesting to see what a collection of them might look like. I contacted Julie, because we had worked together on a previous anthology (Umpteen Ways of Looking at a Possum: Critical & Creative Responses to Everettte Maddox) and she was game. Then I contacted Christine Holbert at Lost Horse Press, who had previously published my collection Retreats & Recognitions, as well as an anthology on women and work—Raising Lilly Ledbetter. She was game as well, so we were off and running. We explain in the introduction how we planned to put out the call the day after the election, with inauguration day as the deadline. We proceeded thinking election day would be a celebratory occasion, and when things turned out otherwise, I almost gave up.

Julie Kane: On November 9th, the day after the election, Christine and I got an email from Grace saying only “Well, the unthinkable has happened, so our brilliant idea is a moot point. God help us all.” But then Christine emailed us back insisting that the project was now more important than ever.

Grace: So Julie and I rallied, revised the wording of the original call, and put it out a day or so later than planned. We felt a sense of urgency about getting the anthology out into the world as soon as humanly possible, so our “window of opportunity” for submissions was limited. We relied primarily on social media to get the word out—posting and reposting on Facebook, Twitter, the Lost Horse Press website, and various groups and listservs focused on women writers. We asked friends and followers to re-post and re-tweet and include the call in their blogs, etc., which many people did. Our call was picked up by Black Lives Matter and, among others. As overwhelming as the response was (we received over 1500 poems), we know many nasty women poets whose work might have fit perfectly into the anthology may have missed the call, but as it was, we still had to say no to many wonderful poems. We still ended up going over the page limits Christine initially suggested—by a lot! We’re grateful that she indulged us.

Sarah: How do you see the poems, poets, and this anthology as a whole resisting, reclaiming, or reinventing what it means to be a “nasty woman?”

Grace: Like beauty, “nasty” is in the eye of the beholder. We never wanted the anthology to be just about the election—though there is certainly plenty to be said about this event, and the potential repercussions for women. The call for poems made it clear that we were looking for broader—and more varied—perspectives on women’s experience. Women poets have always been resisting, reclaiming, and reinventing—sometimes subtly, sometimes more overtly. To my mind, any refusal to allow others to define what it means to be a woman is a kind of resistance.

Julie: We were certainly not the first to reclaim the term “nasty woman.” As soon as the term spewed out of a certain candidate’s mouth, women began reclaiming it with pride, to mean any woman who resists sexist stereotyping. If you look closely at the photos of Grace and me on the back cover of the anthology, Grace is wearing a t-shirt that says “Nasty Woman,” and I am wearing a silver necklace that says the same thing—we acquired those items months before the anthology came out. There has been a huge unofficial movement to reclaim the term and redefine it as a positive thing.

Grace: Just had to say that I like Julie’s choice of the verb “spewed.”

Sarah: While prompted by recent events, this collection also speaks to “the stereotypes and expectations women have faced dating back to Eve, and to the long history of women resisting those limitations. The nasty women poets included here talk back to the men who created those limitations, honor foremothers who offered models of resistance and survival, rewrite myths, celebrate their own sexuality and bodies, and the girlhoods they survived. They sing, swear, swagger, and celebrate, and stake claim to life and art on their own terms.” Why was it important to situate this collection within this broader context?

Julie: We chose to situate the collection within several broader contexts, actually. The very first themed section in the book is “Sweet Inspiration: Nasty Women Poets on Foremothers & Role Models,” because where would we be without the inspirational examples of real women who came before us? Myth and legend can be just as important as a source of inspiration to resist limitations, especially on an unconscious level, and so we have a whole section devoted to those imaginary foremothers, as well. And in our introduction, Grace and I talk about how three women’s poetry anthologies from the second-wave feminist movement empowered us as poets at a time when the textbook anthologies in our college courses were nearly devoid of women writers.

Sarah: This anthology contains poems from 217 writers, each approaching what it means to be a “nasty woman” in different ways. How did you go about organizing the material? Did you have the sections in mind during the selection process or did they arise while putting the anthology together? How did the act of bringing so many voices together through arrangement enrich the spirit of the project?

Julie: It was tempting to just put all of the poems in alphabetical order by last names, because doing the themed sections added so many more hours of work for us. But we’re happy with the way they turned out. To begin with, Grace and I each read back through all of the poems we’d accepted and jotted down lists of themes we saw running through them. Then we compared our lists, hashed out the ten major themes you see in the book, and started assigning poems to each themed section. Within each section, the organization is alphabetical, but that led to some amazingly serendipitous juxtapositions: two poems in a row about straightening hair, a poem about tampons following one about menstruation bloodstains, and a left-hand vulva poem squaring off against a right-hand blue balls poem, for example. Throughout the book, each poem speaks to those around it, which (I hope) adds another dimension to the reader’s experience. We decided that song titles associated with women singers would be fun to use as our section titles—unlike song lyrics, song titles can’t be copyrighted. Some of them came really easily, like “She Works Hard for the Money” for the section about women at work; but some of them really stumped us. Grace and I found ourselves Googling the complete song lists of every significant women singer we could think of, from Bessie Smith and Edith Piaf through Beyoncé and Taylor Swift. Then what seemed like the perfect song title to express a given theme might get vetoed because the song itself did not support women’s empowerment. For example, “Legend in Your Own Time” was a perfect title for the myths & legends section, but the song itself is about a jerky guy.

Grace: Yes, alphabetizing would have been much, much easier, but we just couldn’t let ourselves go the easy route. Once the sections evolved, we played around with which poem fit best where (many could, of course, fit into more than one section). This added hours to our work, but in the end, I think it makes for a far richer collection. And yes, some of the serendipitous connections that occurred turned out better than anything we might have planned. The song titles, I think, add a fun dimension to the possible readings of the poems, but also show how women artists have been resisting and redefining for a long time. If you listen to that Lesley Gore song “You Don’t Own Me,” which came out when I was just a kid, you realize it’s pretty damn defiant—especially for a Top 40 song from that time period.

Sarah: Nasty Women Poets includes work from what you describe as “a fabulous coven.” How did you go about including diverse women’s voices, perspectives, and experiences? What editorial principles guided your decision making? How do you see these editorial practices resisting or reacting to the current social and political climate? What is our responsibility as editors during these times?

Julie: Grace and I each read every poem submitted and scored it a yes, no, or maybe. Then we would compare our lists. Even though our own writing styles as poets are very different, we tend to agree on editorial decisions about 90 percent of the time, so the “two yeses” and “two nos” were easy. Then we hashed out the rest of the decisions in emails and phone calls.

Grace: Our main criteria were 1) whether the submitted poem fit the parameters of the anthology and 2) whether the poem spoke to us on a significant level. It didn’t matter if the poet was well known to us or not. We were choosing poems more than poets. We did solicit poems from a small number of poets who were not, to our knowledge, users of social media or others who might not be our active “friends” of “followers” and were pleased when some of those we solicited sent us their work—though others did not respond, for whatever reason. When all was said and done, we felt we had amassed a fairly diverse range of voices in terms of race/ethnicity, class, gender identity, age, geography, etc.

Sarah: What poems stood out immediately from the submissions? Why? What poems do heavy lifting in this collection? Why?

Julie: That’s like trying to pick a favorite child. Every poem in the book stood out immediately to one or both of us when we were reading submissions. But Nordette Adams’s “Digital Anthropologists Find Our Hashtags” definitely impressed both of us. It’s a poem protesting the police shootings of young Black males that fuses current events, personal experience, and pop culture into a stunning verbal torrent that keeps breaking into tweetable fragments with hashtags and emojis—a summary that does not do it justice. It’s the voice of a woman speaking to power—one of our definitions of “nasty,” from our Introduction—and it does so in a way that feels so utterly fresh and groundbreaking. I might also add that Grace and I were both thrilled that the last poem in the book, by Andy Young, ended with the image of a grieving mother “turning to look / into everyone’s face.” That’s what we wanted each poem and the book as a whole to do to its audience of readers, to look out boldly and nakedly, to communicate and confront, person to person.

Grace: Yes, I agree that picking favorites is impossible. There are some poems in the anthology that made us laugh out loud and others that made us want to scream. Each speaks to power in its own way and adds to the collective voice of resistance. Ultimately, I prefer to think of this coven as more cooperative and interactive than competitive. It’s the chorus of voices that we hope will speak (and sing) to readers, more than soloists.

Sarah: It seems each day we see more and more alarming news stories—how do you see this anthology reflecting, responding, or resisting the rapidly-shifting political and social climate?

Grace: We could not have predicted the current rash of allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault while we were working on the anthology, though we knew it was an all-too-common phenomenon, and there are poems in the anthology (Jan Beatty’s “Shooter,” Emari DiGiorgio’s “Little Black Dress,” and Sue William Silverman’s “If the Girl Considers Revenge,” among others) that address the issue. The section on “Social Justice & Political Protest” also shows some of the intersections with current events/issues that affect women, such as Hope Wabuke’s “Job (War Survivor’s Guilt).”

Julie: In that “Social Justice & Political Protest” section, the poems by Nordette Adams and Andy Young that I mentioned earlier both address the shootings of young Black males. Stacey Waite takes on the issue of transgender bathrooms. There are poems about the Arab Spring uprising, the Pussy Riot protests, the 2016 election results and the subsequent March on Washington.

Grace: Muriel Rukeyser, an important foremother to this collection, said that if one woman spoke the truth about her life, “the world would split open.” Maybe what happens is not so much one dramatic split, but a series of cracks that eventually create a break. My hope is that this anthology will add a few cracks to that monolithic structure of patriarchy and let in a little bit of nasty women’s light.

Sarah Fawn Montgomery is the author of Quite Mad: An American Pharma Memoir (The Ohio State University Press, 2018), and three poetry chapbooks, Regenerate: Poems from Mad Women (Dancing Girl Press, 2017), Leaving Tracks: A Prairie Guide (Finishing Line Press, 2017), and The Astronaut Checks His Watch (Finishing Line Press, 2014). Her work has been listed as notable several times in Best American Essays, and her poetry and prose have appeared in various magazines including Crab Orchard Review, DIAGRAM, The Los Angeles Review, The Normal School, Passages North, The Rumpus, Southeast Review, Terrain, and others. She has worked as Prairie Schooner’s Nonfiction Assistant Editor since 2011 and is an Assistant Professor of English at Bridgewater State University.  

23 March 2018
by Heidi Seaborn

. . . Thanks so much for taking the time to answer these questions! Could you each give our readers a reading suggestion for the road? And what about this collection, publication, novel, or anthology led you to select it?

Heidi Seaborn:

Like Kinsale, I love García Lorca and spent last fall immersed in his work for a particular poem that I was working through based on my time living in Madrid. Currently, I keep picking up Nasty Women Poets edited by Grace Bauer & Julie Kane (Lost Horse Press, 2018) when I have a spare minute. This anthology was dreamed up after Trump called Hillary Clinton a “nasty woman” during a presidential debate. The poems in it are varied, powerful, painful, funny, a clarion call for our times, with so many great women poets represented. While I don’t have a poem in it, friends of mine do, and I’ve had the good fortune to read alongside them on occasion. The readings are raucous. Nasty Women Poets has over 250 poems that speak loudly to what’s on the minds of American women today. It is very much today’s edition of No More Masks—the poetry anthology that captured the women’s movement in the 70s—a book that was my bible back in the day!


Bookmonger: Poems as Political Protest
April 26, 2018 3:36 PM
Nasty Women Poets
Edited by Grace Bauer & Julie Kane
Lost Horse Press (2018)

April is National Poetry Month, and throughout the Pacific Northwest there are poets aplenty to celebrate, as well as small presses that valiantly dedicate themselves to the publication of poetry. One of the first to establish a presence in our corner of the country was Copper Canyon Press, which arrived in Port Townsend in 1974.

Perhaps there’s a bit of poetic synchrony in this—Copper Canyon co-founder Sam Hamill passed away last week—at just the time of year when the air seems to be most abuzz with poetry. Hamill made a lasting impact on the vitality of poetic expression, not just regionally but worldwide. As editor at Copper Canyon for more than three decades, he published scores of poets and supported the translation of poetry from other languages and traditions. As a poet himself, he saw his own work translated into more than a dozen languages. And his global reach didn’t stop there. Fifteen years ago, in response to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, he helped to launch the Poets Against War movement. More than 13,000 poets from around the world submitted poems of protest.

Now another Northwest poetry publishing house is continuing that tradition of wielding poetry as a tool of resistance. Lost Horse Press in Sandpoint, Idaho, recently published Nasty Women Poets: An Unapologetic Anthology of Subversive Verse. Editors Grace Bauer and Julie Kane explain in their introduction that the inspiration for this collection and its title was sparked when then-presidential candidate Donald Trump dismissed his opponent, Hillary Clinton, as “such a nasty woman” during one of their televised debates.

“You may have taken it personally,” Kane and Bauer write, “or maybe you thought of your friends, mothers, daughters, wives, partners, sisters. Even if you were not a Hillary fan, you may have felt like a line had been crossed . . . The phrase stuck in our heads (as well as our craws).”

So these two women collaborated with Los Horse Press and issued a call “for all nasty women poets to come to the aid of their country.” Out of the hundreds of poems they received, they winnowed their selections down to a still-hefty batch of more than two-hundred pieces. Organized into different categories, Nasty Women Poets features poems that honor foremothers and poems that talk about being raised as a female. One section, titled “Roar,” features poetry about women who flaunt their bad attitudes. There are pieces that focus on self-image and poems that talk about talking back.

In her submission, “I Want to Mantle My Daughters’ Bodies,” Portland poet Devon Balwit seeks to prove to her daughters that “they are world makers, atom smashers, pleasure seekers, pleasure takers, / claimants of every right due thinking-kind.”

And finally, there are poems gathered around the topic of social justice and political protest. The call for this anthology went out the day after Donald Trump was elected America’s 45th president. These poems—withering in their criticisms and defiant in claim-staking—are a red-hot response.

The Bookmonger is Barbara Lloyd McMichael, who writes this weekly column focusing on the books, authors and publishers of the Pacific Northwest.


"Reinforcing the Resistance, Aiding the Anxious: Three Poetry Anthologies"
April 6th, 2018

. . . Nasty Women Poets: An Unapologetic Anthology of Subversive Verse was just published by Lost Horse Press. Edited by Grace Bauer and Julie Kane, it’s spacious and muscular, and its introduction acknowledges No More Masks, the groundbreaking 1973 feminist classic to which Piercy contributed, and Stealing the Language: The Emergence of Women’s Poetry in America, published in 1986. Alicia Suskin Ostriker wrote the introduction, and also contributed to Nasty Women Poets. Her piece is called “The Shapes of the Goddess”:

when her hands cup her breasts
she enjoys her sweet strength
sap ascends the oak

dancing she causes
the young to dance
and to kiss

she may carry a weapon
a knife a gun a razor
she may wear a belt of skulls

contend for truth to the death she says
and I will fight for you

when she discharges her anger in laughter
white lightning illuminates the horizon
from pole to pole

often she lays her hand over her eyes
like a secretary leaving
an office building at evening

cradling that infant boy
sitting him on her lap
smoothing the folds of her dress: this means means pity

arms crossed: this signifies judgment.

My judgement is that this is flawless because it’s music, imagery, ethics, and empathy reinforce each other with inevitable symmetry.

Marge Piercy reminds us what pregnant women faced before Roe v. Wade, and what they are facing again as legislation limiting abortion access advances across the country. Her poem, “The President Elect Speaks,” is rightfully frightening:

many women will die alone
in their bloody beds. It will
be just the way you like it
for women who dare to choose.

This excerpt is a classic example of speaking truth to power, and if my father were alive he’d applaud. One of his friends, an OB/GYN, performed safe illegal abortions regardless of patients’ ability to pay. He faced jail. Now he might get shot.

Nasty Women Poets generously gives room to longer works, like the stunner below by Rochelle Spencer, whose storytelling background is expertly evident. The poem is called “You’ve Known Girls Like This All Your Life: A Collective Memoir”:

Stacia. Danielle. Sonya. Monique, Shannon, Kim. Those black middle class girls I grew up with here, right here in the South—they did everything perfectly, didn’t they? Beautiful and talented, Members of the Honor Society, Presidents of this or that club.

You’d sees these girls in church on Sundays and Wednesdays, their hair whipped into sulky flatness from having bobby-pinned it to their heads the night before. If you were lucky enough to know the right people, you’d see them at house parties on Saturdays, looking cool and impressive in their ironed jeans tiny gold hoops- a nod to the chunkier jewelry Salt New Peppa and later TLC wore in their music videos.

Boys respected them and somehow knew they were expected to marry them; to this day, I remember sitting in Mrs. Rogers’ fifth grade Language Arts class in the trailer’s mossy humidity, overhearing Kamau, a confident black boy—every schoolgirl’s crush—whisper to Adria’s back as she bent over her vocabulary worksheet “my mother said you’re the girl I should marry.”

Adria’s quick and self assured nod didn’t surprise me then; nor did the fact that fifteen years later Kamau actually did marry her; nor does the fact that today they are still together—and quite happy.

You could argue the twin pressures of racism and sexism squeezed these girls into diamonds That parts of them shimmered, black and glittering.

But I think, more likely, looking back, that what these girls were doing was rebellion, rebellion Blacksouthernwoman style in the only way possible that didn’t involve drugs, or sex, or suicide.

It takes a fine ear and control to make such specifics sing.

“Fat Girls Get Groped Too” is by J.C. Reilly. It’s a detailed description of a subway violation and her action fueled by rage is so satisfying because of the way she explains the initial confinement of that rage:

—but there is no space
to step away in the crowded car,

and I cannot make myself smaller—

We know the silent questions the speaker asks herself and also hear “[t]he voices of a thousand women” advising her to stay visible and safe. Her unspoken panic is “metallic, mine,” making it ours when the train jolts and he crushes against her. After four stops, “his hand clamps on my breast again.” She then uses the motion of the train to ram her “elbow into his chest” and “stomps his foot for good measure.” The poem doesn’t end there or begin with the first quotes I chose. Consume it whole with the rest of the bold banquet in this book.



I’ve lost a uterus, a gall bladder,
and a man with a mustache
who would have been my husband.
I gave the dress away, sold the ring,
became an evangelist stripper.

Now, I mix salves from secret recipes
at the Rosebud Perfume Company,
founded in 1892. I love old stuff,
even Jell-O, the way
its jewel colors tremble and glow.

Mornings, I dab vanilla extract
on my nipples to jump-start my day.
Sometimes I wink at younger men
from my lavender hearse.
A goddess needs space for accessories.

—Shirley J. Brewer