To Whitmans barbaric yawp in Song of Myself was Howl a

long poem he started writing in Anen Ginsberg

1955, 100 years after the first edition of Leaves of Grass was published.

Schooled in the Whitmanic tradition, you'll find several aspects of Ginsberg's poetic stance familiar. Firstly, Ginsberg embraced the idea of the poet as seer, revolutionary, and aesthetic rebel. His poetry reflects a lot of Whitman's style, seen in the long, bardic free-verse lines and the content of sexual openness and exploration. Ginsberg was, by the way, also gay and wrote openly about gay issues and feelings. Like Whitman, Ginsberg loved America, though he was overtly critical of where America had gone since Whitman's day.

The Beat Generation

Allen Ginsberg was born in 1926 in Newark New Jersey and he died in New York City in 1997. The literary movement that he helped found in the 1950s, known as the Beat Generation, gained its moniker from a word used after WWII by jazz musicians meaning "down and out" or poor and exhausted. In 1944, as the legend goes, a Times Square hustler named Herbert Huncke used the term Beat and it caught the attention of William Burroughs, a Harvard graduate living in NYC. Through Burroughs, the word was passed on to Columbia students Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac. Burroughs, Ginsberg, and Kerouac shared an interest in drugs but also in writing—specifically, in creating a "new vision" of art, a new philosophy that broke from the settled postwar mentality that surrounded them. They admired the work of the Surrealists, of the French poet Arthur Rimbaud, and most importantly of Walt

Whitman. In 1948 the term "Beat Generation" was coined by Kerouac in a conversation with John Clellon Holmes, another writer who enjoyed theorizing about social trends and cultural changes. The book Holmes was writing was entitled GO and was published in 1952. A line from GO:"... you know, everyone I know is kind of furtive, kind of beat... a sort of revolution of the soul, I guess you might call it."

Holmes clarified his position in an article entitled "This is the Beat Generation" (Sunday Times, November 16, 1952). He characterized the Beat Generation as a cultural revolution in progress, made by a generation of young people who were coming of age into a Cold War world without spiritual values they could honor.

What the Beats stood for:

• spiritual liberation

• sexual revolution (or liberation, especially gay liberation)

• political and social radicalism and revolution

• liberation of the word from censorship

• experimentation with controlled substances

• spread of ecological consciousness in the West; glorification of the city in the East

In essence, the Beats stood for a return to an appreciation of idiosyncrasy, rather than regimentation. There was belief in freedom and new paths to spirituality that involved an open frankness that differed greatly from the standard middle-class ethics of America.

"Everything belongs to me because I am poor," Jack Kerouac wrote in On the Road, the most well-known of Beat literary works that was based on Whitman's "Song of the Open Road": "Afoot and lightheaded, I take to the open road."

The original Beat nucleus was a small, tightly knit group comprised of Ginsberg, Kerouac, Holmes, and Burroughs primarily, but it gradually expanded to include a West Coast contingency of Beats, namely, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Kenneth Rexroth, Gary Snyder, and Philip Whalen. More recently, there has been an interest in studying women of the Beat

Generation, like Diane Di

_ . , , Students, writers, and friends Hal Chase, Jack Kerouac, Allen

Prima, Joyce Johnson, Ginsberg, and William S. Burroughs (L-R) and Hettie Jones.

Ginsberg's "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?

This is the first of many Ginsberg poems dedicated to Whitman. Allen Ginsberg moved to California in 1955 and this was the first time he was able to live with some space around him and have a new pastoral lifestyle. We also see Ginsberg using one of Whitman's famous cataloguing techniques. However, Ginsberg has adapted this listing technique to encompass a consumerist society. There is something programmed and artificial to this listing. The inclusion of Lorca in his list is telling in that Lorca also took Whitman as a major inspiration for his life and now finds himself and Whitman alienated in this plastic environment that Ginsberg has set forth in the poem. It may be important to note how this alienation comes about. In the poem a homosexual poet (Ginsberg) writes of two other homosexual poets (Lorca and Whitman). No one in this picture seems to fit in with the American culture and society of the 1950s. They also seem alienated because they are not participating in the consumerist, capi talist way of life that Ginsberg enumerates here.

Lots of Whitman's poems are evoked in this work. Think of the movement (wandering, walking, strolling) of "The Sleepers," and also of "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry." However, here the ferry is stopped, whereas in "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry," there is the implication that it is the passage, the journey, not the arrival, that is important

What is the "lost America of Love"? Whitman's idealized vision of America is played off of the vision Ginsberg has of America as a country that he loves, but also as a country with which he is deeply disillusioned. "What America did you have?" is an important question for Ginsberg. Even though Ginsberg sees the role of the American poet as seer, revolutionary, and aesthetic rebel, the mid-20th century poet's own poetic practice is more critical of the shortcomings of American society than Whitman's was a century earlier.

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