Friday, February 21, 2014
Honor Moore. Photo by Victoria Rue, courtesy of Schlesinger LibraryHonor Moore. Photo by Victoria Rue, courtesy of Schlesinger Library

Many women have turned to poetry, one of the most powerful literary forms of self-expression and communication, to articulate their journeys and insights. The Schlesinger Library houses a considerable collection of published poetry, and among our manuscript collections are the papers of an impressive group of American poets whose work is integral to interpreting the lives of women, among them June Jordan, Jean Lunn, Eve Merriam, Honor Moore, Adrienne Rich, May Sarton, Anne Sexton, Jean Valentine, and Ruth Whitman. Poetry also figures in the papers of feminists who published poems in addition to working in other genres, including Judy Chicago, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and Julia Ward Howe. June Jordan, the author of a corpus of highly praised poetry, founded the “Poetry for the People” project at the University of California, Berkeley, to teach the writing of poetry in community groups and schools.

Jean Valentine. Photo courtesy of Schlesinger LibraryJean Valentine. Photo courtesy of Schlesinger Library

In the 1960s, poetry was the chosen medium for many young feminists and political activists who were seeking ways to explore relationships, sexuality and gender, race and ethnicity, patriarchy and power, motherhood, and consciousness in a creative context. Small volumes of poetry that could be self-published or issued inexpensively as chapbooks by small woman-run presses became popular vehicles for women’s voices, ones that could be easily distributed and would circumvent the male-dominated world of formal publishing. Some of these authors continued to write and publish and became recognized poets; but for many others, only one or two slim pamphlets stand as documentation of their participation in the debates and upheavals of their time. We preserve many examples of these publications in the book collections at the Schlesinger.

 Honor Moore and Judy Chicago. Photo courtesy of Schlesinger Library Honor Moore and Judy Chicago. Photo courtesy of Schlesinger LibrarySome of them are gathered in a special collection, called the Feminist Poetry Collection, that features works by Ai, Alta, Judy Grahn, and Fran Winant, among others. Our book collections include poets of diverse backgrounds; volumes by Paula Gunn Allen, Julia Alvarez, Sandra Cisneros, Lucille Clifton, Rita Dove, Joy Harjo, Maxine Kumin, Winona LaDuke, Mary Oliver, Adrienne Su, and Margaret Walker occupy our shelves.

We continue to develop our poetry collection with the help of the Steeple-Jack Poetry Book Fund, an endowed book fund established by poet Wendy Miller Mnookin ’68. Recent acquisitions made with the Steeple-Jack Fund include Work Week (1977), by Karen Brodine; Some Men (1981), by Ntozake Shange; The Woman of Mongrel Passions and Lesbian Descent (1982), by Germaine Johnson; Word is Movement (1984), by Meridel Le Sueur; Seminary Poems (1991), by the Beat poet Diane Di Prima; Nation of Separation (1993), by Sheila Alson; Beside Myself (2001), by the Berkeley street poet Julia Vinograd; Razor Edges of My Tongue (2002), by Leticia Hernandez-Linares; and Five Feminist Poems (2012) and How Are Your Insides? (2013), poetry zines by Sarah Godfrey.

 Beside Myself by Julia Vinograd. Cover photo by Brian Barton, courtesy of Schlesinger Library Beside Myself by Julia Vinograd. Cover photo by Brian Barton, courtesy of Schlesinger LibraryI Painted on a Bright Red Mouth by Jayne May Murdock. May-Murdock Publications, courtesy of Schlesinger LibraryI Painted on a Bright Red Mouth by Jayne May Murdock. May-Murdock Publications, courtesy of Schlesinger LibraryNation of Separation by Sheila Alson. Cover drawing by Tom Corn and design by Susan Pinard, courtesy of Schlesinger LibraryNation of Separation by Sheila Alson. Cover drawing by Tom Corn and design by Susan Pinard, courtesy of Schlesinger Library
No Lies No More Not Now by D. Pat Mattie. Jungle Press, courtesy of Schlesinger LibraryNo Lies No More Not Now by D. Pat Mattie. Jungle Press, courtesy of Schlesinger LibraryRazor Edges of My Tongue by Leticia Hernandez-Linares. Cover illustration by Laila Balderas, courtesy of Schlesinger LibraryRazor Edges of My Tongue by Leticia Hernandez-Linares. Cover illustration by Laila Balderas, courtesy of Schlesinger LibraryTenderloin Rose by Kathleen Wood. Cover photo by Greg Harder, courtesy of Schlesinger LibraryTenderloin Rose by Kathleen Wood. Cover photo by Greg Harder, courtesy of Schlesinger Library
The Woman of Mongrel Passions and Lesbian Descent by Germaine Johnson. Women's Press Project, courtesy of Schlesinger LibraryThe Woman of Mongrel Passions and Lesbian Descent by Germaine Johnson. Women's Press Project, courtesy of Schlesinger LibraryWord is Movement-Journal Notes From Atlanta to Tulsa to Wounded Knee by Meridel Le Sueur. Cover illustration by Deborah LeSuer and calligraphy by Tandiwe McAnally, courtesy of Schlesinger LibraryWord is Movement-Journal Notes From Atlanta to Tulsa to Wounded Knee by Meridel Le Sueur. Cover illustration by Deborah LeSuer and calligraphy by Tandiwe McAnally, courtesy of Schlesinger LibraryWork Week by Karen Brodine. Cover design by Karen Brodine, courtesy of Schlesinger LibraryWork Week by Karen Brodine. Cover design by Karen Brodine, courtesy of Schlesinger Library