Public Media for Central Pennsylvania
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Poetry Moment: 'What Girls Learn,' by Anne Dyer Stuart

Anne Dyer Stuart
Anne Dyer Stuart

This is Poetry Moment on WPSU – a weekly program featuring the work of contemporary Pennsylvania poets. Your host is poet and author Marjorie Maddox, a 2023 Monson Arts Fellow, author of 20 books, and professor of English and creative writing at the Lock Haven campus of Commonwealth University. 

Welcome to Poetry Moment.

“Women’s History Week” began as a local Santa Rosa, CA, celebration. This was 1978. Through a lot of hard work and an act of Congress in 1987, “Women’s History Month” was born. This year, 2024, we continue to celebrate women’s voices and accomplishments throughout the month of March (

In today’s poem, “What Girls Learn,” Anne Dyer Stuart portrays, from personal history, what has changed and, perhaps, what has not.

Anne Dyer Stuart’s publications include Pleiades, North American Review, AGNI, Cherry Tree, American Journal of Poetry, and Raleigh Review. She is associate professor of English at the Bloomsburg campus of Commonwealth University of Pennsylvania.

“Voicing an opinion.” “Being silenced.” These phrases, of course, do not apply just to women. However, today’s poem raises this question: What is the difference between choosing to speak and being expected—or taught—to remain silent?

Here’s “What Girls Learn” by Anne Dyer Stuart

- - -

Mama was two women: one who never
spoke on a date from fourteen to eighteen,
one who kicked off her shoes, ran to the stage
and danced with the band until nobody
had anything left. Mashed potato
to the twist, even sexless chaperones
couldn’t say a bad word about her.
Because she was that good.
I knew her behind a vacuum, running
from calories, lusting after Lays,
hot pink tube top, earrings big as cars.
I knew her when she didn’t want to talk
about it, whatever it was, when she
pretended we did in fact talk about
it, and I had forgotten. Silence like
another person in the house, stealth
and grit inside a red plaid flannel robe,
waist cinched. I knew her when she’d get mad
and Daddy’d try to take her seriously
and fail. I think I learned something about
men and women. I think it wasn’t good.

A previous version of this poem appeared in the chapbook, What Girls Learn (Finishing Line Press, 2021).

- - -

That was “What Girls Learn” by Anne Dyer Stuart. Thanks for listening.

Listen for Poetry Moment with Marjorie Maddox Mondays during Morning Edition and All Things Considered on WPSU. You can more episodes at

Our theme music is by Eric Ian Farmer.

Marjorie Maddox is the host of WPSU's Poetry Moment for the 2023-24 season. She has been a professor of English and creative writing since 1990 at the Lock Haven campus of Commonwealth University.