Poets and writers have been focusing their work on the body for ages — on pleasure, on identity, on illness, on abuse, on beauty, and on the body as a living target.
Our bodies contain stories and songs; we write from their lived experiences. They are how we move through the world, and this can often be made difficult (or magical) depending on how others see and treat our bodies… not to mention how we treat ourselves.
It’s important that we read these poems, especially in a world where we are discussing identity and shifting ideologies around what it means to inhabit a body. We are talking more about how gender, race, and class intersect with the body and how our bodies are treated in public.
We are talking more about the internal dialogue that comes with having a body that is underrepresented or invalidated. And we are talking more about how we live in bodies that require care and management.
It’s a beautiful thing, too, this discourse. The more we talk and the more we create art, the more we are able to destigmatize illness or size or difference, and the more we identify and resist acts of oppression.
It also should be said that poetry is a beautiful vehicle for expressing and confessing our innermost, nuanced, intimate feelings of desire and appreciation for the world around us (Sappho’s poem is an excellent example, below).
Here are 11 poems on the body from incredible contemporary and canonical poets:
Diannely Antigua’s Diary Entry #16: About Using My Body
“Repeat after me: I am the ocean. I am a liver. I amfrom Muzzle Magazine.
the bracelet on my wrist”
Jessica Reidy’s In The Oven
I’d stare in that void and wish myself in.
You see, I’ve been saving myself up
since I was young.
I’ll be clean like that, I say to the man,
the day my body is thin-gone
and can’t feel anyone.from Luna Luna
Omotara James’ The Only Rooms I Occupy Are Empty
“at my annual appointment
when i’m asked to disrobe
and talk about what’s happened
with my body. you see
everyone travels through
some sort of prison atsomepoint”from Nat.Brut.
Leza Cantoral’s Zombie
My body is not my own anymore because my body was yours last night and last night is like a videocassette that got taped over with white noise.from Entropy
Joanna C. Valente’s Sunday Poetry: THE END IS COMING
You are in the ER. Your body
isn’t on display but you feel like
you are on display. You are
of he way you let himfrom them
touch you. You are ashamed
you didn’t know any better.
Cade Leebron’s Medusa In The Emergency Room
something unspecific, same as this town
that probably exists in almost every state.
I rename it Diagnosisland and like our lovefrom Chronically Lit
or a stretched-out vein, it lasts forever.
Sharon Olds’ After Making Love In Winter
We have come to the end of questions,
you run your palm, warm, large,
dry, back along my face over and
over, over and over, like God
putting the finishing touches on, before
sending me down to be born.from Poetry Foundation
Krizia Bruno’s Mejorar La Raza: Part 1
They tell me:from Pussy Magic Heals
We must mejorar la raza.
We must embrace our Spanish genes.
We must use their gift to conceal.
We must erase our blackness
We are Dominican not Haitian.
Christine Sloan Stoddard’s The Storm
No one told mefrom Quail Bell
was an earthquake,
That my body
was and will always be
the eye of the storm.
Sappho’s A Tremor Shakes Me
For just gazing at you for a second, it is impossiblefrom The Conversation
for me even to talk;
my tongue is broken, all at once a soft
flame has stolen beneath my flesh,
my eyes see nothing at all,
my ears ring,
sweat pours down me, a tremor
shakes me, I am more greenish than
grass, and I believe I am at
the very point of death.
May Swenson’s Question
Body my house
my horse my hound
what will I do
when you are fallen
Where will I sleepfrom Poetry Foundation
How will I ride
What will I hunt