Friday, April 4, 2008

Introduction: "A Supermarket in California" by Allen Ginsberg

1. Ginsberg, Allen. "A Supermarket in California." Collected Poems 1947-1997. New York: Harper Perennial, 2006. 144.


2. In this poem the speaker imagines seeing Walt Whitman in a supermarket one night. One stanza focuses on the speaker watching as Whitman interacts with the various people inside the supermarket. Whitman asks the prices of of products, leers at the grocery boys, and samples the artichokes. In the last stanza the speaker imagines leaving the supermarket with Walt Whitman, and strolling along, "dreaming of the lost America of love."

3. This poem is really easy to find online, due to the fact that it's Ginsberg's most anthologized poem. This is probably because, unlike other Ginsberg poems, there's nothing in it that would be considered obscene or offend anyone. There are many aspects of this poem that I like. First of all Ginsberg writing a poem about Whitman is pretty cool since the poetic techniques that Whitman developed throughout his lifetime significantly influenced Ginsberg. Ginsberg is heavily indebted to Whitman when it comes to style as well as content matter. As with most Ginsberg poems his use of adjectives is something I admire. He always describes things in interesting somewhat unusual ways. The supermarket is described as a "neon fruit supermarket," and he describes himself as having a "head-ache self-conscious." Every time I read this poem I get a kick out of Whitman asking "Who killed the pork chops?"

4. This poem reminds me a little bit of "On First Looking into Chapman's Homer" by John Keats and "When I Read Shakespeare" by D.H. Lawrence. Both are about art and how an audience interprets art, which is what "A Supermarket in California" is about to a certain extent. Ginsberg never knew Whitman, but based on the speaker in Whitman's poems, Ginsberg is able to construct his own imaginary Walt Whitman companion. "A Supermarket in California" also reminds me of "Taking Off Emily Dickinson's Clothes" by Billy Collins, which is not a poem we read in class but is featured in the Norton book. The comparison is pretty obvious with these two poems. In both cases the speakers are imaging that they are interacting with long dead poets.


Sara Bouchard said...

I read this poem in my Intro. to Poetry to class and enjoyed it. I like how Ginsberg places Walt Whitman in a supermarket- a place where this nature loving man would never be seen.

Melissa Kerrigan said...

I thought this poem was commical; there was just something about it. I like how you compared this poem to all the other poems referring to long-since-past poets. It is sort of a symbol of how much impact these authors have on todays literature.

Desiree Goodwin said...

I remember reading this poem in one of my English classes in High School! It is really comical how Ginsberg placed Whitmen in a supermarket...great poem.