Emily may be dead, but she still has a vast fan base. Any blog I’ve ever kept, gets massive hits when I post about this proto-modernist, as the ModPoPenn crew likes to call her. Tonight, however, I gave some thought to another poet, a Beat…
Allen Ginsberg was a poet who set America on fire with his radical ways.** I’ve read briefly from his letters and journals, finding him most intriguing. He was of an inquisitive mind that never stopped. His interests seemed all over the board, but he had an edge….do we dare use hipster?
The ModPo course has us close reading “A Supermarket in California”. The poem has generated many threads regarding observations on consumerism; homosexuality; loneliness; suburbia; education; etc.. One thread that drew me in was, “Ginsberg as follower, Whitman as teacher”. Though I’ve agreed with some of the dialogue, my take on teacher/follower spoke more about the alienation Ginsberg was feeling with America in general.
If you follow the link above to the poem, read Ginsberg’s intro. Based upon those words, I added this to the commentary:
Was Whitman ‘teacher’ for what he represented to Ginsberg – an idealistic poet who painted America as a land of possibilities; a poet who could ‘sing the body electric’ drawing apart good and evil only to align each body as connected. Ginsberg alludes to having WW’s book (I assume Leave of Grass) with him — he has been drinking in WW American Dream, yet, is Ginsberg now disillusioned by what was painted on those leaves? Has he followed in the steps of testing his own measure; singing his own song only to find that America has found fault with his vision, his art?
I write this not as absolute, but what came to mind while reading the poem. The beginning of the poem link has a bit of text from Ginsberg alluding to the fact that “Supermarket” was written after “a lot of great poetry”. I assume that this was composed after “Howl” and after the trial. A trial that showed that America was not all love, kindness, nor even free speech. Perhaps Ginsberg was crying out to Whitman because he now was lost, he needed a modernized version to deal with the changing America from Whitman’s times.
The above thought was just the cuff, but the whole sleeve is more than I’ve time for tonight. An addendum soon. ~
** Radical art is oft a tag for Modernism. A most interesting article (set of articles actually) over at NYTimes regarding radical art. Rather serendipitously, it encompasses the Ballet Russes, which was the inspiration for Danse Russe by William Carlos Williams. Check out the essay – see if you can see how the description of meter and subject of a music composition hold true for poetry too.
P.S. Anyone can follow @ModPoPenn tomorrow at 10AM Central for a live blogging for the first live lecture.