Wednesday, September 17, 2014

MOOC ModPo Poem of the Day: "A Supermarket in California" by Allen Ginsberg

The Songs of Eretz MOOC ModPo Poem of the Day for September 17, 2014 is "A Supermarket in California" by Allen Ginsberg (1926 - 1997).  A link to the poem, including an audio recording by the poet, may be found here:  http://www.poetryarchive.org/poem/supermarket-california.  A brief biography and references may be found here:  http://www.poetryarchive.org/poet/allen-ginsberg.

In "A Supermarket in California," Ginsberg imagines following Walt Whitman around a supermarket and its environs at night.  Ginsberg supposes that Whitman, who had a profound influence on his work and who loved (or who was in love with) America, would find the America of the 1950s to be a disappointment, with its garish neon lights, and nearly 24/7 consumerism.  The setting, a supermarket, was carefully chosen, as it is perhaps a symbol of the loss of small town American values, mom & pop stores, and the America that both Whitman would have known in his day and that Ginsberg would have known as a child.

In the final stanza, Ginsberg presents an image of Whitman being ferried to the ancient Greek land of the dead.  He rhetorically asks Whitman, "…what America / did you have…?"  By this, Ginsberg may mean that the America of Whitman and of Ginsberg's childhood days is gone, replaced by something that perhaps Whitman would rather not know and for which to forget he might take a drink from "the black / waters of Lethe," the river of oblivion.

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