(Poem #244) A Supermarket in California
What thoughts I have of you tonight, Walt Whitman, for I walked down the streets under the trees with a headache self-conscious looking at the full moon. In my hungry fatigue, and shopping for images, I went into the neon fruit supermarket, dreaming of your enumerations! What peaches and what penumbras! Whole families shopping at night! Aisles full of husbands! Wives in the avocados, babies in the tomatoes! --- and you, Garcia Lorca, what were you doing down by the watermelons? I saw you, Walt Whitman, childless, lonely old grubber, poking among the meats in the refrigerator and eyeing the grocery boys. I heard you asking questions of each: Who killed the pork chops? What price bananas? Are you my Angel? I wandered in and out of the brilliant stacks of cans following you, and followed in my imagination by the store detective. We strode down the open corridors together in our solitary fancy tasting artichokes, possessing every frozen delicacy, and never passing the cashier. Where are we going, Walt Whitman? The doors close in an hour. Which way does your beard point tonight? (I touch your book and dream of our odyssey in the supermarket and feel absurd.) Will we walk all night through solitary streets? The trees add shade to shade, lights out in the houses, we'll both be lonely. Will we stroll dreaming of the lost America of love past blue automobiles in driveways, home to our silent cottage? Ah, dear father, graybeard, lonely old courage-teacher, what America did you have when Charon quit poling his ferry and you got out on a smoking bank and stood watching the boat disappear on the black waters of Lethe?
A brilliantly hallucinatory poem - the images are almost Blakean in their combination of dazzling brightness and strange mysticism... I keep thinking of this marvellous photograph I once saw of Brian Wilson  in pinstriped pyjamas, looking sublimely peaceful, in the aisle of a California health food store... Allen Ginsberg has always shown remarkable facility in capturing the rhythms of speech and action in sprawling and baroque (but never flabby) acres of words. This quality is especially pronounced in today's poem: in paying homage to his spiritual forebear Walt Whitman, Ginsberg comes closer to Whitman's grand oral tradition than any other 20th century American poet (with the possible exception of Carl Sandburg). You have only to compare the ebb and flow of his masterpiece 'Howl'  with the works of other practitioners of the art to realise how effortlessly natural and graceful Ginsberg's words are. Beautifully and powerfully done. thomas.  He of Beach Boys fame.  Which, unfortunately, is far too long to use on the Minstrels... maybe I'll run an extract from it some time... [Critical Assessment] Starting from William Carlos Williams' idea of a new American idiom and measure, then reaching back to Whitman, Ginsberg arrived at what he calls his 'romantic inspiration -- Hebraic-Melvillian bardic breath'. What this means ... is the freedom to be exuberant and incantatory, to catalogue at will, and to employ free association of ideas in the context of sweeping religious utterance. Ultimately, Ginsberg is the natural heir to Whitman, in his further exploration of Whitman's long line [as in today's poem - t.], and in his preoccupation with transcending the ego by containing, or partaking of, all experience, in a kind of osmosis of the imagination. ... [Ginsberg] wanted to create a poetry that would not be literary, but would make full use of everything in our daily lives. "When you approach the Muse, talk as frankly as you would with yourself or your friends". -- 20th Century Poetry and Poetics, ed. Gary Geddes [Biography] Allen Ginsberg was born in 1926, in Paterson, New Jersey, to Naomi Ginsberg, a Russian immigrant, and Louis Ginsberg, a lyric poet and schoolteacher. His life from age seventeen until the publication of 'Howl and Other Poems' in 1956 included Columbia University, the merchant service, dishwashing, market research, book reviewing, drugs, and travel to Texas, Denver, Mexico City and the Yucatan. Between 'Howl' and 'Kaddish and Other Poems' (1961), Ginsberg travelled to the Arctic by sea, to Venice, Tangiers, Amsterdam, Paris and London, and read his poems at Oxford, Columbia and Chicago. After 'Kaddish', a long poem written about the death of his mother, he recorded his poems in San Francisco and departed for the Orient. [Links] This is actually the first Ginsberg poem I'm running (I know, very remiss of me). But you can check out some of his roots and influences by navigating through the links below: Carl Sandburg's Chicago is the canonical example of Whitmanesque free verse in the 20th century; you can read it at poem #5 William Blake's influence on modern poetry is incalculable; my favourite Blake poem is Jerusalem, which you can read at poem #26 Although we haven't covered any of Walt Whitman's truly epic poems, an old favourite is Oh Captain, My Captain, at poem #157