This month’s theme is Women. THE SUN presents a Special Section on Women’s Poetry featuring Jennie Knoop, Marilyn Michael, Virginia Rudder, Marsha Poirier, Jean Wilson, Jaki Shelton, Sarah Keith, Elizabeth Cox, and Barbara Street.

Most of these poems surfaced at the Women’s Poetry readings held last Winter at Somethyme Restaurant in Durham. Some of these women had published before; most had not. This is, then, for the most part “amateur” poetry — only I don’t like that word. I don’t feel that the dichotomy between “amateur” and “professional,” as far as poetry goes, is helpful. Most of these women are still struggling with their identity as writers. “A writer is one who writes” once helped me. A writer is also one who says things significant and true which hit home with readers or listeners. These poems needed a wider audience and a “place in the sun” — and deserved it, because they were hitting home. A lot of new writing is not getting the attention it deserves because it is labelled “political” or because, no matter how clearly it speaks, it is not considered “good” enough. Too many “professional” editors and publishers have gotten away from listening to their own hearts and minds, because they are waiting to find out what someone else thinks first.

Poems like these have been made possible, in part, by a very political reality — the Women’s Movement in this country from the 1960’s on. I suspect that the major energy of the women’s movement now is going into the arts and other fields where individuals are achieving new levels of self-esteem and self-fulfillment because the awareness that women are fully people is about, is in the air.

What I first noticed at Somethyme, and have since seen other signs of, is of a fresh sensibility coming into its own, expressing and renewing itself. Perceptions are going into poems; poems are being shared; the poets are becoming aware that they speak for others as well — and are struggling with how to do that better, to work out their thinking and their lives so that they are able to devote primary energy and time to writing. I feel sure it’s happening in the other arts.

It is happening more than it is being publicly noticed or recorded. Small groups of women are gathering to raise consciousness in a new way, to share and to get beyond their doubts as artists.

A whole new cultural revolution is occurring, under our noses. That last June’s Women’s Outdoor Cultural Arts Festival occurred and that it involved so many women, most of whom did not know of each other before, ought to be a sufficient sign.

The political phase of the Women’s Movement is struggling with inner ideological splits. But meantime, there is a “second wave” which is probably going to make it possible for Virginia Woolf’s dream of a sister to Shakespeare to come true. For we have only begun to express how we see the world. And after our angers have risen and spent themselves, and we have made peace with our deepest and feminine selves, we can settle down to getting the world written and into print.

There is a real need for a women’s press in this area, and I would be happy to facilitate one in any way I could. There are also many independent workshops and poetry/writing groups springing up outside the universities. And I’ll be happy to put people in touch with those who are doing these. The mood is openness and sharing, and it has far-reaching implications for all our human relationships. Nor can I get away from the political implications of these poems.

It is also significant to me that the N.C. Arts Council could find no way of supporting the women’s fair. Whether they realize it or not, they are widening the gap between the poets who speak truth and the poets who soften their voices or change their words so as not to offend, so as not to seem “hostile” or “political” or “unsafe.”

Poetry has often been a cutting edge for cultural change. It can be again. The poem cuts to the quick, and quickly, and the image stays in the mind. It won’t go away.

Judy Hogan


Jennie Knoop
I am folding
My fears and
Putting them
Away. Like worn-out
Garments, patched and
Faded: finally,
They’re soft and
Broken-in. I’ve out
Grown them. I’ve
Grown till my
Cages fit as
Supple as
A skin, a skin
That is warm
And expands
Toward a touch.
Chains put round
A tree, to
Support it, slowly
Strangle the
Thickening trunk. My
Chains were only
Made out of me.

People are having dogs instead of
Children these days, I say.
I wish they would stop having
And start doing, says Dee.
I finish peanut-buttering the
Last sandwich and lick the Swiss
Army knife, almost cutting my
Tongue. The children have
Their lunch and sip pop as
We mention baby-sitting co-ops,
Watching the frisbees fly.
The gospel music goes on inside,
Majestic dark women swaying to
Music rippling out of their souls.
A sister dances her holy dance in
The aisle, shouting “God is! God is!”
I wish I had been raised up in a
Black Church, I say.
Me too, says Dee, both of us survivors
Of convent schools.
We discuss the futility of singing
Gregorian chant in midnight
Drunken parking lots, searching for
The car.
The Great Spirit has a cunt, I say.
Dee’s laugh has her on her
Back, knees up and feet
Stomping the grass. I am pleased.
Soon the children are back,
Bored and thirsty. Christopher
Has grievously scraped his
Arm on a tree. Eventually
We float out to the quad
And send the hot pink frisbee
Flying along a three-cornered
Marilyn Michael
Poem For Two Women Poets Dead And Those Alive
“There is a death baby
for each of us.”
                   — Ann Sexton

she wrote it out
in a school book
still we could not believe
and she didn’t care

somehow in a car
exhaust gas maybe
surely suicidal

light as chalk on the

we took up our stories and pens
having said you were dead


you promised glass frozen eyes
snow flake hands flicking dust
from your hips
you promised to be again and again
the fat jonah-leftover
for the whale’s pica teeth

the big sellout

warm stink of death
instead appealed to you
bone dull lullaby


they will pull you for years
from your wreckage
make mad money
from your remains

some will see your babies
under every winter tree

“Does not my heat astound you. And my light.”
                                                                         — Sylvia Plath

there was a stink from that
v of her body
slippery among smiles
she bled poems

wiped up her life
with words
as a feminine napkin

i don’t care if you like it
read one or two
there is her ruby stain
on you
just try to rub it off


she lay herself down
in the warm womb stove

leave her
her splendid mistake

we are a baby
another bad check
perhaps a poem
away from it

we have the art under our scabs
these slivers in our heart
are wolves teeth
tears calcified

we are not ruled by the moon
it does not remind us of dinner china
or vaginas
we do not bleed out brains on a monthly basis


poems our isadora’s scarf
poems our ice breath, death breath
fire to spit
bits of us
like one would crop a photograph
down to the nail
having touched your lips to it
you may recognize it mine
but with all the white half moons
you can’t be sure
Virginia Rudder (Virginia Love Long)
Memoirs Of Snow White
The apple, as Eve’s,
Perfect in symmetry,
Took my eye from the first.
Even the Hag’s drooling laugh
And prodding fingers
On my torso’s flesh
Could not hold me back.
Why should I not feed, I ask you,
When stout tradition made it mine?
Why spoil a good story
Or alter a single line?
So, with a hale appetite,
I ate it up,
Not spurning the core,
Both peel and pulp.
But the charm played me false
And historians recount me wrong:
Now I never sleep.
The Prince never comes.
Marsha Poirier
Hesitant, the paper bird
Like a shot hawk
Dives at the lull
And flutters earthward lame—
Pull tight, my fairlings, run—
Let the bitter gust
Lift up its trinket,
Swoop it asky—
Pinned by the faint fierce drag
Of the wind’s catenary,
A tailed spot in heaven
Free but a length of twine.

Fly up, my fledglings,
Catch the courage
Of the life-wind
Blowing you from my reel.
Yet once played out, though the wind
Fail and drop you
Toward the bare spiked trees—
Though my heart’s flesh
Be torn with yours,
And the cord’s faint image
Stretch from womb to heart—
There is no hauling in—
Soar free or dip and crash—
The string is cut.
Jean Wilson
Winter Winter
there’s nothing more to see
last night silver frost crept through the land
today the day-old bunnies lay frozen
like stones in a cloud of white fur

everything disappears
the rabbit hops twice         sniffs her young
pink pomegranate seeds stare back
there’s nothing more to see
tiny spirits disappearing into watchful winter trees
awake to the morning
the bleating of hungry goats
Jaki Shelton
i have forgotten exactly
what time in what city
or what sunset my
pain began
i have remembered to forget
what man
chose not to speak to
the light
chose not to allow
the sunlight to
enter and caress
my other breast
jealous mornings
i have forgotten
what it is like to
wake up without
without poem
without pain
and turn over to face the sun.
what room
does this act take place in
into whose
grave do
i allow
these bones
to crawl into.
what woman
will i cease to return
Sarah Keith
Prayer Out Of Scarcity
Let my love be round.
Let it be suspended from an airy spine.
Let the wind blow through it.
Let it roll smoothly on dirt tracks.
Let it have dark eyes.
Let the eyes be warm and wrinkled.
Let the skin be translucent.
Let it be as daily as air.
Let it be inconsistent as the mind.
Let me touch it with fingers.
Elizabeth Cox
At A Loss
My mother’s chants
and moth-like messages
stand at the fence.
Her mouth now
agape: she exhaled
it all. She’s
not to leave her bed,
or to see my eyes
clutch, at a loss.
My dad’s ancient stare
will not change. He’s
gone before he’s gone.

The orphan spins
on cobblestones
in toeless shoes,
taking crumbs of
a mysterious food,
a mid-summer wafer
with the metallic taste
of lunacy. Shells
around me break
in their delicate

Sleep is all there is.
With a positioned smile
and a glass full of water,
I edge toward dreams
that dismantle themselves
in a warm breath
on my eyes.
Barbara Street
Living At The Edge
isn’t easy. Still,
I prefer it. My dragons
they’re friendly beasts
some days. They wear
tennis shoes, smoke Gauloises
they watch the evening news.
They speak to me in even
tones: Girl, we’re taking over.
Fine, I say. I’ll go. I’ll bake
a cake. I’ll write postcards
to my friends today.

Thanks a lot. It won’t last
long, I know. See, they’re
dragging out the broken glass
now. Kisses for your fingers,
they purr. Ice cubes for
your red hot veins.
They rub it in. Those dragons,
they know how to win.

The edge is here. I search
for paper clues in the Herald,
anything, anywhere. Smoke
dope. Read my horoscope.
I’m earth. I’m dirt. I must avoid
travelling in planes. Lemon bleach,
I read, takes out stubborn
stains. Why not mine? Express
yourself in spices, lady. I will.
I am chives. I am the marjoram.
The women’s news—that’s me.
I’m stained. I’m ink.
At odds with death, a dwelling
place, if you will, for these dragons,
their fierce hot breath, their stink.

Thanks to Judy Hogan, Laura Sholman and Irene Moffat for bringing us these poems. Many more were originally intended for publication; space doesn’t allow. They will appear in future issues.