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Allen Ginsburg: Walt Whitman’s 20th century reincarnation

Two poems: A Supermarket in California and Homework

  • A Supermarket in California
  • What thoughts I have of you tonight, Walt Whitman, for I walked down the sidestreets 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?
  • Homework
  • Homage Kenneth Koch
  • If I were doing my Laundry I’d wash my dirty Iran
  • I’d throw in my United States, and pour on the Ivory Soap, scrub up Africa, put all the
  • birds and elephants back in the jungle,
  • I’d wash the Amazon river and clean the oily Carib & Gulf of Mexico,   
  • Rub that smog off the North Pole, wipe up all the pipelines in Alaska,   
  • Rub a dub dub for Rocky Flats and Los Alamos, Flush that sparkly Cesium out of Love
  • Canal
  • Rinse down the Acid Rain over the Parthenon & Sphinx, Drain Sludge out of the Mediterranean basin & make it azure again,
  • Put some blueing back into the sky over the Rhine, bleach the little Clouds so snow
  • return white as snow,
  • Cleanse the Hudson Thames & Neckar, Drain the Suds out of Lake Erie   
  • Then I’d throw big Asia in one giant Load & wash out the blood & Agent Orange,
  • Dump the whole mess of Russia and China in the wringer, squeeze out the tattletail Gray
  • of U.S. Central American police state,
  • & put the planet in the drier & let it sit 20 minutes or an Aeon till it came out clean.
Allen Ginsburg

Allen Ginsburg (1926-1997) was an American poet and one of the most influential members of the Beat Poets, a group of countercultural writers working in the 1950s who anticipated – and influenced – the social revolutions of the 1960s. Other famous representatives of this movement include Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs. Ginsburg’s verse, epitomized by his most famous poem, “Howl,” is written in a style similar to that of Walt Whitman — in free verse, unrestricted by rhyme, strict meter or stanza forms — and he has often been considered Whitman’s 20th century reincarnation. His poems on the environment, sexual orientation, and political protest remain relevant, especially in the current cultural context.

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  • A Supermarket in California
  • What thoughts I have of you tonight, Walt Whitman, for I walked down the sidestreets 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?
  • Homework
  • Homage Kenneth Koch
  • If I were doing my Laundry I’d wash my dirty Iran
  • I’d throw in my United States, and pour on the Ivory Soap, scrub up Africa, put all the
  • birds and elephants back in the jungle,
  • I’d wash the Amazon river and clean the oily Carib & Gulf of Mexico,   
  • Rub that smog off the North Pole, wipe up all the pipelines in Alaska,   
  • Rub a dub dub for Rocky Flats and Los Alamos, Flush that sparkly Cesium out of Love
  • Canal
  • Rinse down the Acid Rain over the Parthenon & Sphinx, Drain Sludge out of the Mediterranean basin & make it azure again,
  • Put some blueing back into the sky over the Rhine, bleach the little Clouds so snow
  • return white as snow,
  • Cleanse the Hudson Thames & Neckar, Drain the Suds out of Lake Erie   
  • Then I’d throw big Asia in one giant Load & wash out the blood & Agent Orange,
  • Dump the whole mess of Russia and China in the wringer, squeeze out the tattletail Gray
  • of U.S. Central American police state,
  • & put the planet in the drier & let it sit 20 minutes or an Aeon till it came out clean.
Allen Ginsburg

Allen Ginsburg (1926-1997) was an American poet and one of the most influential members of the Beat Poets, a group of countercultural writers working in the 1950s who anticipated – and influenced – the social revolutions of the 1960s. Other famous representatives of this movement include Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs. Ginsburg’s verse, epitomized by his most famous poem, “Howl,” is written in a style similar to that of Walt Whitman — in free verse, unrestricted by rhyme, strict meter or stanza forms — and he has often been considered Whitman’s 20th century reincarnation. His poems on the environment, sexual orientation, and political protest remain relevant, especially in the current cultural context.

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