Poems about sexism and patriarchy


(Sexism playlist) **(Image source)

“The Rights of Women” by Anna Lætitia Barbauld (1743-1825; Kibworth Harcourt, Leicestershire, UK; political essayist, children’s book writer, editor, literary critic, Palgrave academy administrator and teacher)
– from Woman Romantic Poets, 1785-1832: An Anthology

[this is a response to Mary Wollstonecraft’s treatise “A Vindication of the Rights of Women”]

Yes, injured Woman! rise, assert thy right!
Woman! too long degraded, scorned, opprest;
O born to rule in partial Law’s despite,
Resume thy native empire o’er the breast!

Go forth arrayed in panoply divine;
That angel pureness which admits no stain;
Go, bid proud Man his boasted rule resign,
And kiss the golden sceptre of thy reign.

Go, gird thyself with grace; collect thy store
Of bright artillery glancing from afar;
Soft melting tones thy thundering cannon’s roar,
Blushes and fears thy magazine of war. (…)

“I am obnoxious to each carping tongue” from Prologue by Anne Bradstreet (1612-1672; Northampton, England / Cambridge, Massachusetts; scholar; Puritan)
– from World Poetry: an Anthology of Verse from Antiquity to Our Time

I am obnoxious to each carping tongue
Who says my hand a needle better fits.
A Poet’s Pen all scorn I should thus wrong,
For such despite they cast on female wits.
If what I do prove well, it won’t advance,
They’ll say it’s stol’n, or else it was by chance.

But sure the antique Greeks were far more mild,
Else of our Sex, why feigned they those nine
And poesy made Calliope’s own child?
So ‘mongst the rest they placed the Arts divine,
But this weak knot they will full soon untie.
The Greeks did nought but play the fools and lie.

Let Greeks be Greeks, and Women what they are.
Men have precedency and still excel;
It is but vain unjustly to wage war.
Men can do best, and Women know it well.
Preeminence in all and each is yours;
Yet grant some small acknowledgement of ours.

And oh ye high flown quills that soar the skies,
And ever with your prey still catch your praise,
If e’er you deign these lowly lines your eyes,
Give thyme or Parsley wreath, I ask no Bays.
This mean and unrefined ore of mine
Will make your glist’ring gold but more to shine.

“The Australian Emigrant” by Francis Fisher Browne (1843-1913; South Halifax, Vermont, US; literary periodical editor, literary critic, biographer, Civil War veteran)
– from Victorian Women Poets: An Anthology

(…) But, oh! the old home track,
Where our first affections rest!
Alas! no time shall give them back —
Our earliest and our best!”
Oh! MAN may grieve to sever
From the hearth or from the soil, —
For still some hope, some right, was his,
Which lived through want and toil; —
The dwellers of the forest,
THEY may mourn their leafy lair; —
But why should WOMAN weep her land?
She has no portion there.
Woe — woe for deeds of worth,
That were only paid with ill! —
For to her the homes of earth
Are the house of bondage, still!”

“Lord Walter’s Wife” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning (née Moulton-Barrett) (1806-1861; Kelloe, Durham, England; letter-writer, literary critic, activist for the abolition of slavery and child labor)
– from The New Penguin Book of English Verse

“BUT why do you go?” said the lady, while both sate under the yew,
And her eyes were alive in their depth, as the kraken beneath the sea-blue.

“Because I fear you,” he answered;—“because you are far too fair,
And able to strangle my soul in a mesh of your gold-colored hair.”

“Oh, that,” she said, “is no reason! Such knots are quickly undone,
And too much beauty, I reckon, is nothing but too much sun.”

“Yet farewell so,” he answered;—“the sunstroke ’s fatal at times.
I value your husband, Lord Walter, whose gallop rings still from the limes.”

“O, that,” she said, “is no reason. You smell a rose through a fence:
If two should smell it, what matter? who grumbles, and where ’s the pretence?”  (…)

«Разговор между мною и женщинами» (Conversation between Me and the Women) by Anna Petrovna Bunina (1774-1829; Urosovo, Ryazan, Russia; honorary member of the literary societies of the time) [google translate]
– from An Anthology of Russian Women’s Writing, 1777-1992

(…) Женщины
И тут ни слова нет про нас!
Вот подлинно услуга!
Так что же нам в тебе? На что ты нам?
На что училась ты стихам?
Тебе чтоб брать из своего все круга,
А ты пустилася хвалить мужчин!
Как будто бы похвал их стоит пол один!
Изменница! Сама размысли зрело,
Твое ли это дело!
Иль нет у них хвалителей своих?
Иль добродетелей в нас меньше, чем у них!

Все правда, милые! вы их не ниже,
Но, ах!
Мужчины, а не вы присутствуют в судах,
При авторских венках,
И слава авторска у них в руках,
А всякий сам к себе невольно ближе.

And there is no word about us!
This is truly a service!
So what are we to you? What are you to us?
What are you studying poetry?
You’re taking all of his circle,
And you’re empty praise of men!
As if they should praise one floor!
Traitor! Razmyslov very mature,
Is this Your business!
Or they do not have their eulogisers?
Ile virtues in us less than they!

All true, lovely! you do not lower
But, ah!
With Men, not you, the courts of taste are manned
Where authors all must stand,
And an author’s fame is in their hands
And just to himself involuntarily closer.

“To the Ladies” by Mary Chudleigh, Lady (1656-1710; Winslade, Devon, England; letter-writer; Feminist) – from Poetry by English Women: Elizabethan to Victorian

Wife and servant are the same,
But only differ in the name:
For when that fatal knot is tied,
Which nothing, nothing can divide:
When she the word obey has said,
And man by law supreme has made,
Then all that’s kind is laid aside,
And nothing left but state and pride:
Fierce as an Eastern prince he grows,
And all his innate rigour shows:
Then but to look, to laugh, or speak,
Will the nuptial contract break.
Like mutes she signs alone must make,
And never any freedom take:
But still be governed by a nod,
And fear her husband as a God:
Him still must serve, him still obey,
And nothing act, and nothing say,
But what her haughty lord thinks fit,
Who with the power, has all the wit.
Then shun, oh! shun that wretched state,
And all the fawning flatt’rers hate:
Value your selves, and men despise,
You must be proud, if you’ll be wise.

“A Clever Woman” by Mary Elizabeth Coleridge (pseud. Anodos) (1861-1907; London, England; novelist, essayist, literary reviewer)
– from Victorian Women Poets: A New Annotated Anthology

You thought I had the strength of men,
Because with men I dared to speak,
And courted Science now and then,
And studied Latin for a week;
But woman’s woman, even when
She reads her Ethics in the Greek.

You thought me wiser than my kind;
You thought me “more than common tall;”
You thought because I had a mind,
That I could have no heart at all;
But woman’s woman you will find,
Whether she be great or small.

And then you needs must die—ah, well!
I knew you not, you loved not me.
‘Twas not because that darkness fell,
You saw not what there was to see.
But I that saw and could not tell—
O evil Angel, set me free!

“Man in Space” by William James “Billy” Collins (b. 1941; New York, US; professor, poetry consultant to government) – from Contemporary American Poetry

All you have to do is listen to the way a man
sometimes talks to his wife at a table of people
and notice how intent he is on making his point
even though her lower lip is beginning to quiver,

and you will know why the women in science
fiction movies who inhabit a planet of their own
are not pictured making a salad or reading a magazine
when the men from earth arrive in their rocket,

why they are always standing in a semicircle
with their arms folded, their bare legs set apart,
their breasts protected by hard metal disks. from a series by Allaire Bartel (2015) (source)

“The Emulation” by Sarah Fyge Egerton (1670-1723; London, England; writer of heroic couplets, as a teen wrote The Female Advocate (1686) in response to a misogynist satire by Robert Gould) – from The Columbia Anthology of British Poetry

Say, Tyrant Custom, why must we obey
The impositions of thy haughty Sway;
From the first dawn of Life, unto the Grave,
Poor Womankind’s in every State, a Slave.
The Nurse, the Mistress, Parent and the Swain,
For Love she must, there’s none escape that Pain;
Then comes the last, the fatal Slavery,
The Husband with insulting Tyranny
Can have ill Manners justify’d by Law;
For Men all join to keep the Wife in awe.
Moses who first our Freedom did rebuke,
Was Marry’d when he writ the Pentateuch;
They’re Wise to keep us Slaves, for well they know,
If we were loose, we soon should make them so. (…)

“Fooling God” by Louise Erdrich (b. 1954; Little Falls, Minnesota, US; novelist, short-story writer, children’s book writer, essayist, bookseller; 20th century Native American Renaissance [Chippewa tribe] – from Reinventing the Enemy’s Language: Contemporary Native Women’s Writings of North America

I must become small and hide where he cannot reach.
I must become dull and heavy as an iron pot.
I must be tireless as rust and bold as roots
growing through the locks on doors
and crumbling the conderblocks
of the foundations of his everlasting throne.
I must be strange as pity so he’ll believe me.
I must be terrible and brush my hair
so that he finds me attractive.
Perhaps if I invoke Clare, the patron saint of television.
Perhaps if I become the images
passing through the cells of a woman’s brain. (…)

“Dear Webster” by Connie Fife (b. 1961; Saskatchewan, Canada; First Nations [Cree] writer, anthology editor) – from Reinventing the Enemy’s Language: Contemporary Native Women’s Writings of North America

savage (sav’ij) adj. without civilization; primitive; barbarous (a savage tribe) n. a member of a preliterate society having a primitive way of life; a fierce, brutal person.

i am the one who talks with the mountains
when i am not sliding down the stream of its face
i am the one who walks the streets late a
night despite the danger
believing this land is mine to roam freely
i am the one who carved a mask from a thick tree then wore it
i am the one who raises her arms to the sun
then takes flight on winds from the east
i am the one who says “no more”
then leaves the man whose fists have reconstructed my bones (…)

“Untitled” by Eli Goodwin (Cambridge, Massachusetts, US)
– from Beyond the Frontier: African American Poetry for the 21st Century

The Number 1 bus jerks to a stop at Mass. Ave.
Uncomplaining riders fight for blance,
sway in unison, anemones in a current undersea.
My mind drifts, in its own time.
The stopped bus rocks as folks file in,
drop change, find seats.
A woman squeezes her broad bottom
between blue moulded plastic and the
pole that vainly separates her space from mine;
against my arm, my side, my thigh the cool,
soft press of flesh. My reverie and I part company.
A thicket of thin black braids rounds out her dark brown face.
She turns to me apologizing, unashamed;
shifts her weight, then smiles, and says, “I’m fat”,
and I smile back and pat her on the shoulder.
Between us just her soft blue cotton shift
and this moment without guile, and ancient knowing shared.
“Hey man,” a blast from the doorway—
“what you doin’ huggin’ my wife?”
Neat trimmed beard beneath a broad brimmed hat,
an expensive tailored suit, dark mustard silk.
His tone sounds like mock anger, but it’s hard to read. (…)

“Raise girls but not too many” by “Cold Mountain” Han-shan (800s BC; China) [tr. “Red Pine” Bill Porter] – from The Columbia Anthology of Traditional Chinese Literature

raise girls but not too many
once born you have to train them
smack their heads and yell watch out
beat their behinds and shout shut up
and before they learn how to work a loom
they won’t touch a basket or broom
Old Lady Chang advised her young jenny
you’re big but no match for your Mother

“A Double Standard” by Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (1825-1911; Baltimore, Maryland, US; novelist, short-story writer, essayist, activist for abolition and women’s suffrage, co-founder and vice-president of National Association of Colored Women); African-American) – from The New Anthology of American Poetry: Volume I: Traditions and Revolutions, Beginnings to 1900

Do you blame me that I loved him?
If when standing all alone
I cried for bread a careless world
Pressed to my lips a stone.

Do you blame me that I loved him,
That my heart beat glad and free,
When he told me in the sweetest tones
He loved but only me?

Can you blame me that I did not see
Beneath his burning kiss
The serpent’s wiles, nor even hear
The deadly adder hiss? (…)

“You Have Touched My Skin” by Shakuntala Hawoldar (Mauritius; short-story writer)
– from The Heinemann Book of African Women’s Poetry

You have touched my skin
Without entering my pores.
Do you know the sores inside
Festering in the dark womb of my mine?
But you have been content
To know me as an image
Sometimes as a caricature,
Scribbled in the corner of your newspaper
To make you laugh
You have known me
As your morning cup of tea
Without which your day could not have begun.
Or perhaps as a spoon to stir the
forgotten sugar at the bottom to sweetness.
Or just perhaps a pillow which you might use
If the nights of your past haunt you.
But the core of me, the hunger of me,
The thirst of me,
How would you have known?
For I have been losing
Myself in the smell of the kitchen steam
And the clatter of pans in the sink
Rising in the night to hush the child
While sleepless I watch for the first rays of light.

“Thân phận đàn bà” (The Condition of Women) by Ho Xuan Huong (1772-1822; Vietnam) [tr. John Balaban] – from The Poet’s Child

Hỡi chị em ơi có biết không?
Một bên con khóc một bên chồng.
Bố cu lỏm ngỏm bò trên bụng,
Thằng bé hu hơ khóc dưới hông.
Tất cả những là thu với vén,
Vội vàng nào những bống cùng bông.
Chồng con cái nợ là như thế,
Hỡi chị em ơi có biết không?

Sisters, do you know how it is? On one hand,
the bawling baby; on the other, your husband
sliding onto your stomach,
his little son still howling at your side.
Yet, everything must be put in order.
Rushing around all helter-skelter.
Husband and child, what obligations!
Sisters, do you know how it is?

“Advice to Young Ladies” by Alec Derwent (A. D.) Hope (1907-2000; Cooma, Australia; essayist, professor, editor, playwright, literary critic, reviewer, memoirist; Satirist)
– from The Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry

A.U.C. 334: about this date
For a sexual misdemeanor, which she denied,
The vestal virgin Postumia was tried.
Livy records it among affairs of state.

They let her off: it seems she was perfectly pure;
The charge arose because some thought her talk
Too witty for a young girl, her eyes, her walk
Too lively, her clothes too smart to be demure.

The Pontifex Maximus, summing up the case,
Warned her in future to abstain from jokes,
To wear less modish and more pious frocks
She left the court reprieved, but in disgrace. (…) Photo from the Touring Consortium Theatre Company’s 2015 adaptation of Aldous Huxley’s novel Brave New World (England) (source)

“Second Philosopher’s Song” by Aldous Huxley (1894-1963; novelist, short-story writer, philosopher, essayist, screenwriter, travel writer, playwright; Satirist, dystopian fiction)
– from The Oxford Book of Comic Verse

If, O my Lesbia, I should commit,
Not fornication, dear, but suicide,
My Thames-blown body (Pliny vouches it)
Would drift face upwards on the oily tide
With the other garbage, till it putrefied.

But you, if all your lovers’ frozen hearts
Conspired to send you, desperate, to drown –
Your maiden modesty would float face down,
And men would weep upon your hinder parts.

‘Tis the Lord’s doing. Marvellous is the plan
By which this best of worlds is wisely planned.
One law he made for women, one for man:
We bow the head and do not understand.

“Mujer” (Woman) by Juana Fernandez Morales de Ibarbourou (“Juana de América”) (Mello, Cerro Largo, Uruguay; 1892-1979; memoirist; Feminist) [tr. Sophie Cabot Black]
– from Twentieth-Century Latin American Poetry

Si yo fuera hombre, ¡qué hartzago la luna,
de sombra y silencio me había de dar!
¡Cómo, noche a noche, solo ambularía
por los campos quietos y por frente al mar!

 Si yo fuera hombre, ¡qué extraño, qué loco,
tenaz vagabundo que había de ser!
¡Amigo de todos los largos caminos
que invitan a ir lejos para no volver!

Cuando así me acosan anisas andariegas,
¡Qué pena tan honda me da ser mujer!

If I were a man, I’d have all the moonlight—
and shadow—and silence—I wanted!
How I’d walk night after night
through the quiet fields, and watch the ocean!

If I were a man, what a strange, odd,
purposeful vagabond I’d become!
Friend of all the open roads
that beckon, on and on and on!

When restless travel pesters me, tempting,
how deeply I resent I am a woman.

“Divestment of Beauty” by Laura “Riding” Jackson (1901-1991; literary critic, novelist, essayist, short-story writer)
– from American Poetry: The Twentieth Century, Vol. 2

Carnation Milk is the best in the land;
Here I sit with a can in my hand—
No tits to pull, no hay to pitch,
You just punch a hole in the son of a bitch.

“Paper Matches” by Paulette Jiles-Johnson (b. 1943; Salem, Missouri, US; novelist)
– from The Norton Introduction to Poetry

My aunts washed dishes while the uncles
squirted each other on the lawn with
garden hoses. Why are we in here,
I said, and they are out there?
That’s the way it is,
said Aunt Hetty, the shriveled-up one.
I have the rages that small animals have,
being small, being animal.
Written on me was a message,
“At Your Service,”
like a book of paper matches.
One by one we were taken out
and struck.
We come bearing supper,
our heads on fire.

“Poem About My Rights” by June Jordan (1936-2002; Harlem, New York, US; essayist, activist, memoirist; African-American, LGBT writing)
– from In Search of Color Everywhere: A Collection of African-American Poetry

Even tonight and I need to take a walk and clear
my head about this poem about why I can’t
go out without changing my clothes my shoes
my body posture my gender identity my age
my status as a woman alone in the evening/
alone on the streets/alone not being the point/
the point being that I can’t do what I want
to do with my own body because I am the wrong
sex the wrong age the wrong skin and
suppose it was not here in the city but down on the beach/
or far into the woods and I wanted to go
there by myself thinking about God/or thinking
about children or thinking about the world/all of it
disclosed by the stars and the silence: (…)

“Woman’s Future” by May Kendall (1861-1943; United Kingdom; novelist, satirist)
– from Victorian Women Poets: An Anthology

Complacent they tell us, hard hearts and derisive,
In vain is our ardour: in vain are our sighs:
Our intellects, bound by a limit decisive,
To the level of Homer’s may never arise.
We heed not the falsehood, the base innuendo,
The laws of the universe, these are our friends,
Our talents shall rise in a mighty crescendo,
We trust Evolution to make us amends!
But ah, when I ask you for food that is mental,
My sisters, you offer me ices and tea!
You cherish the fleeting, the mere accidental,
At cost of the True, the Intrinsic, the Free.
Your feelings, compressed in Society’s mangle,
Are vapid and frivolous, pallid and mean. (…)

“The Erotic Philosophers” by Carolyn Ashley Kizer (1925-2014; Spokane, Washington, US; poetry lecturer at universities, literature consultant for government, anthology editor)
– from The Oxford Book of American Poetry

It’s a spring morning; sun pours in the window
As I sit here drinking coffee, reading Augustine.
And finding him, as always, newly minted
From when I first encountered him in school.
Today I’m overcome with astonishment
At the way we girls denied all that was mean
In those revered philosophers we studied;
Who found us loathsome, loathsomely seductive;
Irrelevant, at best, to noble discourse
Among the sex, the only sex that counted.
Wounded, we pretended not to mind it
And wore tight sweaters to tease our shy professor. (…)

“Fearful Women” by Carolyn Ashley Kizer (1925-2014; Spokane, Washington, US; poetry lecturer at universities, literature consultant for government, anthology editor)
– from Extraordinary Tide: New Poetry by American Women

Arms and the girl I sing – O rare
arms that are braceleted and white and bare

arms that were lovely Helen’s, in whose name
Greek slaughtered Trojan. Helen was to blame.

Scape-nanny call her; wars for turf
and profit don’t sound glamorous enough.

Mythologize your women! None escape.
Europe was named from an act of bestial rape:

Eponymous girl on bull-back, he intent
on scattering sperm across a continent.

Old Zeus refused to take the rap.
It’s not his name in big print on the map. (…)

“I, Being Born A Woman and Distressed” by Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950; Rockland, Maine, US; playwright, feminist activist)
– from Love’s Witness: Five Centuries of Love Poetry by Women

I, being born a woman and distressed
By all the needs and notions of my kind,
Am urged by your propinquity to find
Your person fair, and feel a certain zest
To bear your body’s weight upon my breast:
So subtly is the fume of life designed,
To clarify the pulse and cloud the mind,
And leave me once again undone, possessed.
Think not for this, however, the poor treason
Of my stout blood against my staggering brain,
I shall remember you with love, or season
My scorn with pity,  – let me make it plain:
I find this frenzy insufficient reason
For conversation when we meet again.

“Dick and Colin at the Salmon Nets” by Naomi Mary Margaret Mitchison, Baroness (née Haldane) (1897-1999; Edinburgh, Scotland; novel writer of historical, travel, and science fiction, memoirist, feminist essayist, playwright, short-story writer) – Modern Women Poets

Outside, in the arin, on the edge of evening,
There are men netting salmon at the mouth of the Tweed;
Two men go out of the house to watch thing thing,
Down the steep banks and field tracks to their minds’ and
bodies’ need

How can I, being a woman, write all that down?
How can I see the quiet pushing salmon against the net?
How can I see behind the sticks and pipe-smoke, the intent frown,
And the things speech cannot help with on which man’s heart is
set? (…)

“Understanding Each Other” by Linda Noel (Willits, California, US; Koungkowi tribe)
– from Reinventing the Enemy’s Language: Contemporary Native Women’s Writings of North America

“You’re too wild,
“You don’t drink
raw whiskey,
but when moon hangs
you drink from
the tilted golden cup,
when salmon season
you stand among
river willow shadow
all the time believing
fish understand
why you are there.”

So he left me
to marry one
whose dreams
are laced in perfume
and dishwasher suds.

“Greek History” by Olga Nolla (1938-2001; Río Piedras, Puerto Rico; novelist, short-story writer, journalist, periodical contributor)
– from These Are Not Sweet Girls: Poetry by Latin American Women

Aristotle said
that we women are mutilated men,
impure beings without souls.
As I heard him I decided to avenge myself
and I wrote on the walls of the city
in big red letters:
Aristotle, faggot
I wrote it many times
until I exhausted my anger (…)

“Barbie Doll” by Marge Piercy (b. 1936; Detroit, Michigan, US; novelist, social activist)
– from The Broadview Anthology of Poetry

This girlchild was born as usual
and presented dolls that did pee-pee
and miniature GE stoves and irons
and wee lipsticks the color of cherry candy.
Then in the magic of puberty, a classmate said:
You have a great big nose and fat legs.

She was healthy, tested intelligent,
possessed strong arms and back,
abundant sexual drive and manual dexterity.
She went to and fro apologizing.
Everyone saw a fat nose on thick legs. (…)

“The Moon Is Always Female” by Marge Piercy (b. 1936; Detroit, Michigan, US; novelist, social activist) – from The Wadsworth Anthology of Poetry

The moon is always female and so
am I although often in this vale
of razorblades I have wished I could
put on and take off my sex like a dress
and why not? Do men always wear their sex
always? The priest, the doctor, the teacher
all tell us they come to their professions
neuter as clams and the truth is
when I work I am pure as an angel
tiger and clear is my eye and hot
my brain and silent all the whining
grunting piglets of the appetites. (…)

“Lady Lazarus” by Sylvia Plath (1932-1963; Boston, Massachusetts, US; novelist, short story writer, letter-writer, diarist; Confessional poet)
– from From Totems to Hip-Hop: A Multicultural Anthology of Poetry Across the Americas 1900-2002

I have done it again.
One year in every ten
I manage it——

A sort of walking miracle, my skin
Bright as a Nazi lampshade,
My right foot

A paperweight,
My face a featureless, fine
Jew linen.

Peel off the napkin
O my enemy.
Do I terrify?——

The nose, the eye pits, the full set of teeth?
The sour breath
Will vanish in a day.

Soon, soon the flesh
The grave cave ate will be
At home on me

And I a smiling woman.
I am only thirty.
And like the cat I have nine times to die. (…)

“The Felling of a Tree” [p. 60] by Jennifer Rahim (b. 1963; Trinidad; literature professor, short-story writer, editor of a Caribbean essay anthology)
– from A Chorus for Peace: A Global Anthology of by Women

When the air is a sharpened blade
cutting nostrils clean like cutlass steel,
the bush-planters pass the sleeping houses.

Sometimes alone, sometimes in
pairs, they lumber up the mountain road
tall-tops pounding the asphalt smooth.

Sometimes I awake and follow them,
knowing they go beyond the road’s end
into the depths of bearded trees

where tallness is not neighbours’ fences
and bigness is not the swollen houses
that swallow us all. (…)

Cartographies of Silence” by Adrienne Rich (1929-2012; Baltimore, Maryland, US; essayist, Feminist activist) – from The Wadsworth Anthology of Poetry


A conversation begins
with a lie. And each

speaker of the so-called common language feels
the ice-floe split, the drift apart

as if powerless, as if up against
a force of nature

A poem can begin
with a lie. And be torn up.

A conversation has other laws
recharges itself with its own

false energy. Cannot be torn
up Infiltrates our blood. Repeats itself.

Inscribes with its unreturning stylus
the isolation it denies. (…)

“Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law” by Adrienne Rich (1929-2012; Baltimore, Maryland, US; essayist, Feminist activist) – from Modern Women Poets

You, once a belle in Shreveport,
with henna-colored hair, skin like a peachbud,
still have your dresses copied from that time,
and play a Chopin prelude
called by Cortot: “Delicious recollections
float like perfume through the memory.”

Your mind now, moldering like wedding-cake,
heavy with useless experience, rich
with suspicion, rumor, fantasy,
crumbling to pieces under the knife-edge
of mere fact. In the prime of your life.

Nervy, glowering, your daughter
wipes the teaspoons, grows another way. (…)

{see also: From a Survivor: “The pact that we made was the ordinary pact of men & women”
– “No one’s fated or doomed to love anyone
Paula Becker to Clara Westhoff: “The autumn feels slowed down, summer still holds on here”
“Your small hands, precisely equal to my own”} Alliance’s 2016 production of Ntozake Shange’s for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf (Washington, DC, US)

“It’s Not So Good to be Born a Girl / Sometimes” by Ntozake Shange (playwright, novelist, children’s book writer, essayist; Black Feminist)
– from Shimmy Shimmy Shimmy Like My Sister Kate: Looking At The Harlem Renaissance Through Poems

That’s why societies usedta throw us away/ or sell us/ or play with our vaginas/ cuz that’s all girls were good for. at least women cd carry things & cook/ but to be born a girl is not good sometimes/ some places/ such abominable things cd happen to us. I wish it waz gd to be born a girl everywhere/ then I wd know for sure that no one wd be infibulated/ that’s a word no one wants us to know. infibulation is sewing our vaginas up with cat-gut or weeds or nylon thread to insure our virginity. virginity insurance equals infibulation. that can also make it impossible for us to live thru labor/ make it impossible for the baby to live thru labor (…)

“Lost Sister” by Cathy Song (b. 1955; Wahiawa, Hawaii, US; Korean and Chinese American)
– from The Norton Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Poetry, Vol. 2

In China,
Even the peasants
named their first daughters
the stone that in the far fields
could moisten the dry season,
could make men move mountains
for the healing green of the inner hills
glistening like slices of winter melon.

And the daughters were grateful:
They never left home.
To move freely was a luxury
stolen from them at birth.
Instead, they gathered patience;
learning to walk in shoes
the size of teacups,
without breaking—
the arc of their movements
as dormant as the rooted willow,
as redundant as the farmyard hens. (…)

“A Poet Recognizing the Echo of the Voice” by Diane Wakoski (b. 1937; Whittier, California, US; essayist, poetry instruction author; Imagist, Confessional, and Beat movements) {listen to the full poem here at 58:23} – from The Norton Introduction to Poetry

A woman wakes up
finds herself
glinting in the dark;
the earth holds her
as a precious rock
in a mine

her breath is a jumble
of sediments,
of mixed strata,
of the valuable,
of bulk.

All men are miners;
willing to work hard
and cover themselves with pit dirt;
to dig out;
to weigh;
to possess. (…)

“The Affinity” by Anna Wickham (Edith Alice Mary Harper) (1883-1947; Wimbledon, London, England / Brisbane, Australia; memoirist; Modernist, Feminist)
– from The Norton Anthology of Literature by Women: The Tradition in English

I have to thank God I’m a woman,
For in these ordered days a woman only
Is free to be very hungry, very lonely.

It is sad for Feminism, but still clear
That man, more often than woman, is pioneer.
If I would confide a new thought,
First to a man must it be brought.

Now, for our sins, it is my bitter fate
That such a man wills soon to be my mate,
And so of friendship is quick end:
When I have gained a love I lose a friend. (…)

“The Introduction” by Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea (1661-1720; Sydmonton, Hampshire, England; writer of Pindaric Odes, Satiric vignettes, and other experimental verse) – from Early Modern Women Poets (1520-1700)

Did I, my lines intend for public view,
How many censures, would their faults pursue,
Some would, because such words they do affect,
Cry they’re insipid, empty, and uncorrect.
And many have attained, dull and untaught,
The name of wit only by finding fault.
True judges might condemn their want of wit,
And all might say, they’re by a woman writ.
Alas! a woman that attempts the pen,
Such an intruder on the rights of men,
Such a presumptuous creature, is esteemed,
The fault can by no virtue be redeemed.
They tell us we mistake our sex and way;
Good breeding, fashion, dancing, dressing, play
Are the accomplishments we should desire;
To write, or read, or think, or to inquire
Would cloud our beauty, and exhaust our time,
And interrupt the conquests of our prime;
Whilst the dull manage of a servile house
Is held by some our outmost art, and use. (…)

“The Sun” [or “The Blinding Sun”] by Benjamin Zephaniah (b. 1958; Birmingham, England; adult and children’s poetry writer, novelist, playwright; Dub Poet, Rastafarian)
– from Other: British and Irish Poetry since 1970

[The Sun is a daily tabloid newspaper published in the United Kingdom and Ireland. In 1987 they released a racist tabloid in response to Benjamin Zephaniah’s being awarded an honorary doctorate]

I believe the Blacks are bad
…The Left is loony
God is Mad
The government’s the best we’ve had
So I read The SUN.
I believe Britain is great
And other countries imitate
I am friendly with The State,
Daily, I read The Sun
I am not too keen on foreign ones
But I don’t mind some foreign bombs
Jungle bunnies and play tom-toms,
But, I read The SUN
Man, I don’t like those Russian spies
But we don’t have none
I love lies,
I really do love Princess Di
I bet she reads The Sun
Black people rob
Women should cook
And every poet is a crook (…)

“Baize Queens” by Jane Holland

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