Friday, December 19, 2008

Where are we going, Walt Whitman?


I first read the poems of Allen Ginsberg while in high school. In his small black book HOWL, Ginsberg changed the history of poetry and the history of America. This poem, A Supermarket in California, written in Berkeley, California in 1955, was an homage to his mentor Walt Whitman. I used a small font to preserve the line breaks. You can hear Ginsberg recite it at the poetry archive.

A Supermarket in California

by Allen Ginsberg

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, GarcĂ­a 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

Where are we going, Walt Whitman? The doors close in a 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 automo-
biles 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

From Collected Poems 1947-1980 by Allen Ginsberg, published by Harper & Row. Copyright © 1984 by Allen Ginsberg.


Kelly said...

A very intimate poem.
A movie called "Howl" is coming out, I believe, next year. The actor James Franco is set to portray Ginsberg!

poemhome said...

I really look forward to that.

Julie said...

That early photo of Ginsburg, pre-Howl, is so sweet, isn't it? He's so YOUNG.

Over at the Contemporary Poetry Review this month, Richard Wilbur was asked in an interview about poets who were friends. He had this to say: "It's actually quite a long list, because I think I had amicable relations with a lot of poets. When the Beat people appeared, I immediately found myself reclassified as an academic poet or an Eastern, gray flannel-wearing poet, but I never felt an angry rivalry with any of the Beats. I don't think many of them had much talent, but I think Ginsberg did. He was full of life, and his existence was quite all right with me."

reventon said...

A very young Bob Dylan became friends with Ginsberg in 1963 and if you look at the You Tube of Subterranean Homesick blues
you can see Ginsberg on the left talking to somebody as Dylan throws away cue cards for the viewer.