Thursday, 15 October 2009

The Portable Sixties Reader

Edited with an Introduction by Ann Charters

From civil rights to free love, JFK to LSD, Woodstock to the Moonwalk, the Sixties was a time of change, political unrest, and radical experiments in the arts, sexuality, and personal identity. In this anthology of essays, poetry, and fiction by some of America's most gifted writers, renowned Sixties authority Ann Charters sketches the unfolding of this most turbulent decade. Organized by thematically linked chapters chronicling important social, political, and cultural movements, The Portable Sixties Reader features such luminaries as Martin Luther King, Jr., James Baldwin, Alice Walker, Robert Lowell, Eudora Welty, Bob Dylan, Malcolm X, Susan Sontag, Denise Levertov, Norman Mailer, Allen Ginsberg, Hunter Thompson, William S. Burroughs, Timothy Leary, Ken Kesey, Lenny Bruce, Ishmael Reed, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Rachel Carson, and Gary Snyder. The concluding chapter, "Elegies for the Sixties," offers tributes to ten figures whose lives - and deaths - captured the spirit of the decade.


In the section of 1968 titled "Yeats in the Gas," Sanders described his response to a comment by his friend, the folksinger Phil Ochs, after they had experienced the brutal treatment of the Chicago police during the Democratic Convention.


Phil Ochs later mentioned how
in the horror of the gas and the clubs
he thought of Yeats

"I was in the worst police brutality," he said, "right when they charged up by the Hilton. I was between the charging cops and the crowd and I raced into a doorway in the nick of time. . . . While racing away from the tear gas, I just had a sensation of Yeats. I thought of Yeats (laughs) for some reason."

I wondered about that for years
till it dawned that he might
have been thinking of Yeats' poem
"Easter 1916"

and its repeated line
A terrible beauty is born

That is, those crazy youth and not-so-youth
their hasty signs, their hasty props, their hasty yells
were transformed in the Chicago injustice so that
A terrible beauty was born

"Chicago has no government," said Allen Ginsberg a few weeks later. "It's just anarchy maintained by pistol. Inside the convention hall it was rigged like an old Mussolini strong-arm scene - police and party hacks everywhere illegally, delegates shoved around and kidnapped, telephone lines cut."

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