Summer is here and with it comes a real, serious yearning in me for some heady, detail-soaked summer poems.
Summer itself is hectic, a frenetic series of events and experiences that are scrunched into three short months; affecting our lust-and-heatwave-skewed brains. That is part of why the concept of easy beach reads are so common, not as challenging to focus on when you are feeling a bit droopy like an unwatered plant! Another option is to spice up your summer reading with poetry as it’s short, immersive and can definitely set a mood. These summer poems gorgeously capture the season’s sweltering days and adventurous nights. The mix of classic poems, beat poetry, slam poetry and Instagram poetry are ones that firmly fix me into the summer mood.
1. “BLEEKER STREET, SUMMER” BY DEREK WALCOTT
Summer for prose and lemons, for nakedness and languor,
for rare flutes and bare feet, and the August bedroom
of tangled sheets and the Sunday salt, ah violin!
When I press summer dusks together, it is
a month of street accordions and sprinklers
laying the dust, small shadows running from me.
It is music opening and closing, Italia mia, on Bleecker,
tearing the rose-coloured sky in streams of paper;
it is dusk in the nostrils and the smell of water
down littered streets that lead you to no water,
and gathering islands and lemons in the mind.
There is the Hudson, like the sea aflame.
I would undress you in the summer heat,
and laugh and dry your damp flesh if you came.
2. “FOREST FIRES” BY SARAH KAY
3. “HEAT” BY H.D.
O wind, rend open the heat,
cut apart the heat,
rend it to tatters.
Fruit cannot drop
through this thick air–
fruit cannot fall into heat
that presses up and blunts
the points of pears
and rounds the grapes.
Cut the heat–
plough through it,
turning it on either side
of your path.
4. UNTITLED BY ARTHUR PEREZ JUNIOR
5. “JUNE” BY SABRINA BENAIM
6. AUGUST MORNING, UPPER BROADWAY BY ALICIA OSTRIKER
As the body of the beloved is a window
through which we behold the blackness and vastness of space
pulsing with stars, and as the man
on the corner with his fruit stand is a window,
and the cherries, blackberries, raspberries
avocados and carrots are a rose window
like the one in Chartres, yes, or the one in Paris
through which light floods from the other world, the pure one
stabbing tourists with malicious abundant joy
though the man is tired in the summer heat
and reads his newspaper listlessly, without passion
and people pass his stand buying nothing
let us call this scene a window looking out
not at a paradise but as a paradise
might be, if we had eyes to see
the women in their swaying dresses, the season’s fruit
the babies in their strollers infinitely soft: clear window
after clear window
7. UNTITLED BY CAROLINE KAUFMAN
8. “ODE TO KOOL-AID” BY MARCUS JACKSON
You turn the kitchen
tap’s metallic stream
into tropical drink,
extra sugar whirlpooling
to the pitcher-bottom
like gypsum sand.
Purplesaurus Rex, Roarin’
Rock-A-Dile Red, Ice Blue
Island Twist, Sharkleberry Fin;
on our tongues, each version
keeps a section, like tiles
on the elemental table.
In ninth grade, Sandra
employed a jug of Black Cherry
to dye her straightened
When toddlers swallow you,
their top lips mustache in color
as if they’ve kissed paint.
The trendy folks can savor
all that imported mango nectar
and health-market juice.
We need factory-crafted packets,
a logo cute enough to hug,
a drink unnaturally sweet
so that, on the porch,
as summer sun recedes,
Granddad takes out his teeth
to make more mouth to admit you.
9. “REAL COMPLEX SHIFTS” BY AMANDA NADELBERG
Toward summer or its dependence
On demarcations in the sandy vial
Some tree spelling astronaut onto a
Planet’s arm, it stopped making sense.
I am not an apothecary or a wave
Or a dog by the 15th hole, I am not
A light sparking a whole country’s demise.
I will never be a towel holding someone’s
Sunscreen while they wash it off in foreign
Seas. My hair goes up and down, it’s true
As it is I am not a bag of tea nor will I ever
Be exceptionally happy. Let the director
Know I was distressed by the construction
Noise, that I had no known allergies that
My parents convinced me I was wanted
And why wouldn’t you believe them.
If the earth when it opened dragged away
Our sense of faith, doubt was an
Invention I preferred to ignore in the
Manner of solicitations by mail.
10. “SUMMER AFTERNOON” BY SABA
11. “MY LOVE FOR NATURE” BY FATIMAH ASGHAR
All this tall grass has ruined my gold
acrylic nails & I know something’s dead
just beyond my window. I grew up
with rats running my floorboards
& know the smell straining from a body
once caught in a trap. In the city
what little I have of an ass
is always out, a simple wind blow
from Marilyn Monroe-ing the street.
Here, in all this nature, there is nobody
but me & my 5 friends for a week
& I promised myself I’d be naked
but the first day I found a tick
clinging to my arm hair for dear
life & decided no way I’m exposing
my pussy to the elements. My love
for nature is like my love for most things:
fickle & theoretical.
Too many bugs & I want a divorce.
Last week, before I was here
my uncle drove me from our city
to the suburbs & sang “Project Chick”
in the car. When we parked
he asked me to take off my shoes
& there we walked, silent, barefoot
circling the lake, trying to not step
in goose shit.
He walked in front & I trailed behind
both our hands clasped behind our backs.
When you were my daughter,
those were the happiest days of my life.
I wish you would come home.
My love for the past is like my love
for most things. I only feel it when
I’m gone. Best to stay gone
so I’m always in love. If I look
at something too long it forgets
its joy. All the floorboards carry
death. My gold nails are fake
& chipped. My bare feet skirt the shit.
12. “THE PERFECT DATE” BY NAYYIRAH WAHEED
13. “PORTRAIT NUMBER FIVE: AGAINST A NEW YORK SUMMER BY JACK GILBERT
I’d walk her home after work
buying roses and talking of Bechsteins.
She was full of soul.
Her small room was gorged with heat
and there were no windows.
She’d take off everything
but her pants
and take the pins from her hair
throwing them on the floor
with a great noise.
We wouldn’t make love.
She’d get on the bed
with those nipples
and we’d lie
and talking of my best friend.
They were in love.
When I got quiet
she’d put on usually Debussy
leaning down to the small ribs
14. “IN THE MOUNTAINS ON A SUMMER DAY” BY LI PO
Gently I stir a white feather fan,
With open shirt sitting in a green wood.
I take off my cap and hang it on a jutting stone;
A wind from the pine-trees trickles on my bare head.
15. “PHOTO OF A GIRL ON A BEACH” BY CARMEN GIMÉNEZ SMITH
Once when I was harmless
and didn’t know any better,
a mirror to the front of me
and an ocean behind,
I lay wedged in the middle of daylight,
paper-doll thin, dreaming,
then I vanished. I gave the day a fingerprint,
I sat naked on a towel
on a hot June Monday.
The sun etched the inside of my eyelids,
while a boy dozed at my side.
The smell of all oceans was around us—
steamy salt, shell, and sweat,
but I reached for the distant one.
A tide rose while I slept,
and soon I was alone. Try being
a figure in memory. It’s hollow there.
For truth’s sake, I’ll say she was on a beach
and her eyes were closed.
She was bare in the sand, long,
and the hour took her bit by bit.
16. “JESSE IS BACK THIS SUMMER” BY ALBERT GOLDBARTH
Jesse Is Back This Summer,
planting windbreak trees
on his parent’s Kansas farm.
He’s tired, of course, but confident
he’s busy doing the right thing.
And the wind?
It starts on the frozen ridges
of Pluto’s farthermost satellite,
and travels to Earth,
where it hits the Great Plains full-force,
and picks up every secret human moan
on its way through those empty miles,
and sometimes at night you can hear it play the trees
like a blues harmonica.
17. “MORE THAN ENOUGH” BY MARGE PIERCY
The first lily of June opens its red mouth.
All over the sand road where we walk
multiflora rose climbs trees cascading
white or pink blossoms, simple, intense
the scene drifting like colored mist.
The arrowhead is spreading its creamy
clumps of flower and the blackberries
are blooming in the thickets. Season of
joy for the bee. The green will never
again be so green, so purely and lushly
new, grass lifting its wheaty seedheads
into the wind. Rich fresh wine
of June, we stagger into you smeared
with pollen, overcome as the turtle
laying her eggs in roadside sand.
18. “SUMMER SONG” BY WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS
19. “BLACKBERRY-PICKING” BY SEAMUS HEANEY
Do you have favorite summer poems? Or, do you save yours to read in the winter in an effort to stave off grey days? Let me know in the comments if you have different summer poems that you prefer, or check out this list of ocean-based poems.