The 1960s

Poems about the 1960s, Hippies, and Woodstock


Image: (source)

“Courageousness” by (Imamu) Amiri Baraka (born Everett LeRoi Jones) (1934-2014; Newark, New Jersey, US; actor, teacher, theater director, theater producer, writer, activist)
– from Every Shut Eye Ain’t Asleep: An Anthology of of Poetry by African Americans since 1945

In the 60’s, there was emotion to go around
barreling explosions, at and against, waves
of running, the world itself was feeling, all
feeling. I felt that.
Those shadows haunt us now in various ways.
Women’s mouths at odd angles like laughing.
People we know can reappear carrying shadows
which seem to fall from their hands, but musically.
If we wanted to we could locate boxes packed tight
with skulls and odors, murmurs of some distant
hysteria. (…)

“Vacation, 1969” by Dorothy Barresi (b. 1957; Buffalo, New York, US; English professor)
– from Sweet Nothings: An Anthology of Rock and Roll in American Poetry

(…) I think it was just outside Turlock, California
that I grew too sullen
for togetherness.
Rocking my new breasts in my arms,
I was conked out by hormones and Mick Jagger,
my face held in acne’s blue siege.
So I pulled up oars early that August,
slept while the boys knocked heads
and my iron-eyed parents took turns
lashed to the wheel,
America, by God, filling the car windows.

“No, No, Nostalgia!” by Stephanie Brown (b. 1961; Pasadena, California, US; reference librarian, essayist) – from The Body Electric: America’s Best Poetry from The American Poetry Review

I thought I’d end up a Hippie American Gothic
Those people who nod their heads and listen carefully
And hug one another from arms inside of overalls
Round eyes in round glasses
But I never liked the kitchens they had
Overrun with jars full of saved things
And bins full of grains gotten from bins full of grains
which were gotten on all-day-long shopping-expedition-type
shopping trips.
The car, the van rode very slow… (…)

“Very True Confessions” by Sidney Johnson Burris (b. 1953; Danville, Virginia, US; essayist, literary critic, Buddhist organization manager)
– from Sweet Nothings: An Anthology of Rock and Roll in American Poetry

Once, I grew long hair
in a town with a Howitzer
parked in the town square.
I didn’t want to want to belong.

Not that I was odd.
I shot up gangly
and light-headed
as milkweed and pod,

saw Vietnam in black and white
at six o’clock on eight
(with highlights at eleven),
stayed home a lot (…)

“I Wanna be Black” by Michelle T. Clinton (Los Angeles, California, US; anthology editor)
– from In the Tradition: An Anthology of Young Black Writers

It was a time, that summer ’66
when it always be some brother on the corner
in a beret, a leather jacket, green army pants,
wantin’ to know what was a young child like me
doin’ out in the night,
didn’t I know it was dangerous,
why, what would your momma say?

Before the red devils & bennies
I got ten for a dollar, before
I turned to Smokey Robinson & ripple wine,
or gettin’ finger fucked in some garage
by some body with a dick,

all that summer, at night time walkin’
I got schooled by miscellaneous black nigguhs
gone caring & literate
breakin’ down the community party line (…)

“Forgetting the Sixties” by Mark Defoe (b. 1942; Oklahoma / Kansas; professor, former editor of The Laurel Review) – from Sweet Nothings: An Anthology of Rock and Roll in American Poetry

Recall how she lolly-gagged beneath
kite-spangled skies at the big be-in,
then gave herself because naked kids
tossed frisbees and sunbeams lingered on
amber waves of hair. Sweetly stoned, she
gave herself to this really decent guy
who had planted daisies in rifles,
had smiled when the pigs wailed on his head.

Remember the clenched fist and shaken fist
Remember flames eating flags eating flesh.
Remember Willie Peter dining
on palm-thatch. And slogan on slogan
and shouting until words surrendered
and what mattered limped on ahead—alone. (…)

“Barrio Beateo” by Jesse F. Garcia (Devine, Texas, US)
– from Unsettling America: An Anthology of Contemporary Multicultural Poetry

Woke up to one of those cold
burnt tamales left on the
skillet mornings
Opening the plain window of my
so empty mind to the Mersey Beat
Brought to me long distance by
Murray the K
The Barrio was quiet I was not
Murray the K was not British
he just was
What Every Fabian bored teenager wanted
It was “I Want to Hold Your Hand”
or “I Saw Her Standing There”
excellent sounds good dancing (…)

“The Counterfeit Earth!” by Albert Goldbarth (b. 1948; Chicago, Illinois, US; professor of humanities and creative writing)
– from Real Things: An Anthology of Popular Culture in American Poetry

it’s 1963. I close that comic book. I’m 15: there
are realer pressures. I’m in a men’s room stall and scrawling
ballpoint cocks and cunts (these loopy doodles are miles
away from being “penises” or “vaginas”) on the already
much-cocked sheetrock. Is it criminal
defacing? is it primal confrontation with The Great
and Sacred Mysteries? etc.—I’ll get to that. For
now it’s one more 15-year-old man/boy overbrimmed
with the whelm of daily life, and venting it, quickly, in language
as old as the first flame-licked cave walls. It’s (…)

“How I See Things” by Yusef Komunyakaa (b. 1941; Bogalusa, Louisiana, US; professor, veteran of the Vietnam war)
– from The Oxford Anthology of African American Poetry

I hear you were
sprawled on the cover of Newsweek
with freedom marchers, those years
when blood tinted the photographs,
when fire leaped into the trees.
Negatives of nightriders
develop in the brain.
The Strawberry Festival Queen
waves her silk handkerchief,
executing a fancy high kick
flashback through the heart.
Pickups with plastic Jesuses
on dashboards head for hoedowns.
Men run twelve miles into wet cypress
swinging bellropes. Ignis fatuus can’t be blamed
for the charred Johnson grass. (…)

“Why I Choose Black Men for My Lovers” by “La Loca” Pamala Karol (b. 1950; Hollywood, California, US) {listen to a rendition here}
– from City Lights Pocket Poets Anthology

Acid today
is trendy entertainment
but in 1967
Eating it was Eucharistic
and made us fully visionary

My girlfriend and I used to get cranked up
and we’d land in
The Haight
and oh yeah
The Black Guys Knew Who We Were
But the white boys
were stupid

I started out in San Fernando
My unmarried mother did not abort me
because Tijuana was unaffordable
They stuffed me in a crib of invisibility
I was bottle-fed germicides and aspirin
My nannies were cathode tubes
I reached adolescence, anyway
Thanks to Bandini and sprinklers (…)

“April ‘68” [p. 159] by Elouise Loftin
– from Every Goodbye Ain’t Gone: An Anthology of Innovative Poetry by African Americans

the ball bearings fell out
of my roller skates,
I sat close to the tv
my 7 month baby in my arms
the veil I wore to her father’s
funeral in her mouth and hands
behind me my mother blue roses
on a faded house dress growing
up in her lap watered with her
tears running from her eyes
like beads on a necklace falling
in a bowl of collards

amerikkk amerikka reach out
and touch your tv sets high
school graduation is just around
the conor A photo from the music festival in Woodstock, New York, 1969 (source)

“What’s So Funny ‘bout Peace, Love and Understanding” by Robert Hill Long (Raleigh, North Carolina, US; flash fiction and prose poetry writer)
– from Sweet Nothings: An Anthology of Rock and Roll in American Poetry

[the title of this poem is taken from a song by Nick Lowe, later covered by Elvis Costello & The Attractions]

(…) I remember adolescence.
It went by in a blur of hallucinogens,
Peace signs, and speechlessness: days,
Hot beach, then the beach at night:
That perfect sleep sound,
And the stars,
Like pushpins in really lovely material.

“In 1969” by Katharyn Howd Machan (neé Aal) (b. 1952; Woodbury, Connecticut, US; professor of humanities and gender studies, professional belly dancer, writing workshop leader, essayist, anthology editor) – from Sweet Nothings: An Anthology of Rock and Roll in American Poetry

What were the secrets that we didn’t tell?
Bold lyrics blared, drums throbbed a rhythm full
of wanting, cry of organ rose and fell,
and always the guitars wailed out to pull
us sweating through our adolescent fears. (…)

“Learning Experience” by Marge Piercy (b. 1936; Detroit, Michigan, US; novelist, short-story writer, feminist activist, essayist)
– from The Norton Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Poetry, Vol. 2

The boy sits in the classroom
in Gary, in the United States, in NATO, in SEATO
in the thing-gorged belly of the sociobeast
in fluorescent light in slowly moving time
in boredom thick and greasy as vegetable shortening.
The classroom has green boards and ivory blinds,
the desks are new and the teachers not so old.
I have come out on the train from Chicago to talk
about dangling participles. I am supposed
to teach him to think a little on demand. (…)

“Why Young Men Wore Their Hair Long in the Sixties” by Bruce “Jeff” Poniewaz (1946-2015; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, US; literature professor, ecological activist, musician)
– from Red, White, and Blues: Poets on the Promise of America

Because they could feel the deforestation of the Amazon
breathing down their necks even then,
Because half of the world’s trees have been cut down
since 1950,
Because even as kids in the ’50s they could feel
the wilds dwindling, and were given crewcuts
soon as school let out for the summer,
Because they didn’t care if some bigot
thought they looked like girls–
they were unmistakable male to themselves
and weren’t afraid to accept the female
half of their soul and love the Mother Earth,
rejecting the macho Earth-rape of civilization,
Because they had to become long-haired Indians
to expiate the genocide of the Indians
by their European-invasion
boatpeople greatgrandparents, (…)

“Travel North: The Rules” by Jan Epton Seale (Pilot Point, Texas, US; creative writing professor and workshop teacher, short story writer, writing instruction author, essayist, editor) – from Texas in Poetry 2

Mile 49: Ladies and gentleman,
UnitedStatesImmigrationCheckpoint coming
up! Please have your documentation ready.
Damas y caballeros tambien!

Now there must be a neatening—
all things vertical, horizontal, squared:
hats removed, hair smoothed, hats replaced;
pant legs worked back down the thighs;
boot toes polished on backs of opposing calves;
lipstick checked; long hair slung-brushed;
babies taken off breast; blouses closed;
waking of older children, Sit up! (…)

“Woodstock” by Jan-Mitchell Sherrill (North Carolina; short-story writer, social science researcher) – from Real Things: An Anthology of Popular Culture in American Poetry

That summer I went to Woodstock,
not for drugs or rock’n’roll; though
the constant rain was cleansing
and my wet jeans fit me like my soul,
I was there for Willy, to sleep with him
wrapped in the blanked I had brought
to cover us from home. I knew almost
nothing about him; what did I need to know?
A flat belly, tar-bright eyes, forearms
with one perfect crescent scar. I wanted him,
whatever name it meant I was. (…)

“TV in Black and White” by Gary Soto (novelist, memoirist, children’s book writer, anthology editor, playwright, screenwriter)
– from Red, White, and Blues: Poets on the Promise of America

In the mid-sixties
We were sentenced to watch
the rich on TV–Donna Reed
High-heeled in the kitchen,
Ozzie nelson bending
In his eighth season, over golf.
while he swung, we hoed
Fields flagged with cotton
Because we understood a sock
Should have foot,
A cuff a wrist,
And a cup was always
Smaller than the thirst.
When Donna turned
The steak and onions,
We turned grape trays
In a vineyard
That we worked like an abacus,
A row at a time. (…)

{see also“Dizzy Girls in the Sixties”
“Heaven”} Supremes in 1965; from left: Diana Ross, Florence Ballard, and Mary Wilson (source)

“Meet the Supremes” by David Trinidad (b. 1953; Los Angeles, California, US; anthology editor, poetry book collaborator, youth ambassador for Chicano organizations)
– from Sweet Nothings: An Anthology of Rock and Roll in American Poetry

When Petula Clark sang “Downtown,” I wished I
could go there with her. I wanted to be free
to have fun and fall in love, but from suburbia
the city appeared more distant and dangerous
than it actually was. I withdrew and stayed
in my room, listened to Jackie DeShannon sing
“What The World Needs Now Is Love.” I agreed,
but being somewhat morose considered the song
a hopeless plea. I listened to Skeeter Davis’
“The End Of The World” and decided that was
what it would be when I broke up with my first
boyfriend. My head spun as fast as the singles
I saved pennies to buy: “It’s My Party,” “Give
Him a Great Big Kiss,” “(I Want to Be) Bobby’s
Girl,” “My Guy”—the list goes on. (…)

“A Christmas Card, After the Assassinations” by Mona Van Duyn (1921-2004; Waterloo, Iowa, US; university English department administrator, professor, lecturer, poet laureate to Library of Congress) – from Christmas Poems

What is to be born already fidgets in the stem,
near where the old leaves loosened, resembling them,
or burns in the cell, ready to be blue-eyed,
or, in the gassy heavens, gathers toward a solid,
except for that baby mutant, Christ or beast,
who forms himself from a wish, our best or last.

{see also “What the Motorcycle Said”}

“The Statue” by Luz Maria “Luzma” Umpierre-Herrera (b. 1947; Santurce, Puerto Rico (US territories); languages and literature professor, literary critic, scholar, human rights activist; Queer writer) – from Puerto Rican Writers at Home in the USA: An Anthology

Eh eh
Au eh eh
Flower child
around a yellow full moon.
Trinkets crowning her long mess hair,
glossy bead droplets encircling her neck,
magma, chalazas,
metal links as insignias,
imprisoning rings.

“Peace,” she says;
“Love,” the victoria sign on her hands.
Flowered blazer from Saks on her back;
loafer shoes mold her feet;
Calvin Klein faded jeans
with the brand name torn out—
Flower child.

At the the core of her fabric and emblems:
economics, gastronomics,
the computer,
the lag of the jet,
quintessential histrionics
flower child. (…)

“Some Sixties” by Ray Gonzalez
“El Buen Samaritano keeps reappearing” by Iwan Llwyd
“Allen” by Joe Lothamer
“Test 1 How to design freedom. How fine does the” by Bernadette Mayer
“Eighties Meditation” by Kay Murphy

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