Definition

One must make a distinction however: when dragged into prominence by half poets, the result is not poetry, nor till the autocrats among us can be “literalists of the imagination”—above insolence and triviality and can present for inspection, imaginary gardens with real toads in them, shall we have it.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

A Toad's Favourite--Izy

Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovski.  Image courtesy of Wiki Commons.
"America I used to be a communist when I was a kid and I'm not sorry."
--from Allen Ginsberg's America.


Greetings Garden Dwellers,

Izy here with our next installment of A Toad's Favourite.  When Kerry put out the call to share our favourite poem, there was no doubt in my mind what that poem would be.  Allen Ginsberg's America touches all the Izy soft spots: cold war rhetoric, a call to undress and be angelic, a guilty fascination with Time magazine, and a gushing sentimental love of workers and anarchy.

My muddy buddies, this is the poem that made me want to write poems. To this day, I still sign certain pieces of correspondence with "Go fuck yourself with your atom bomb," because that sentence captures everything I could want to say.

Written in 1956, America appeared in Howl and other poems.  It is an extremely political and intensely personal love letter to a world that could be a tender, benevolent partner if only it cared a little more.  Throughout the poem there are references to a 1950's USA, all of which still read as if they had been inked last night.  And, dear Garden Dwellers, make no mistake about when Ginsberg writes 'America' in this poem, he's pointing directly to you...all of you, American or otherwise.

And so without further ado, I present excerpts from America.  Because the piece is copyright protected, I cannot post the poem in it's entirety, but you can find it HERE.



America
America I've given you all and now I'm nothing.
America two dollars and twenty-seven cents January 17, 1956.
I can't stand my own mind.
America when will we end the human war?
Go fuck yourself with your atom bomb
I don't feel good don't bother me.
I won't write my poem till I'm in my right mind.
America when will you be angelic?
When will you take off your clothes?
When will you look at yourself through the grave?
When will you be worthy of your million Trotskyites?
America why are your libraries full of tears?
America when will you send your eggs to India?
I'm sick of your insane demands.
When can I go into the supermarket and buy what I need with my good looks?
America after all it is you and I who are perfect not the next world.
Your machinery is too much for me.
You made me want to be a saint.
There must be some other way to settle this argument.  
...America I feel sentimental about the Wobblies.
America I used to be a communist when I was a kid and I'm not sorry.
I smoke marijuana every chance I get.
I sit in my house for days on end and stare at the roses in the closet.
When I go to Chinatown I get drunk and never get laid.
My mind is made up there's going to be trouble.
You should have seen me reading Marx.
My psychoanalyst thinks I'm perfectly right.
I won't say the Lord's Prayer.
I have mystical visions and cosmic vibrations.
America I still haven't told you what you did to Uncle Max after he came over
from Russia.
I'm addressing you.
Are you going to let our emotional life be run by Time Magazine?
I'm obsessed by Time Magazine.
I read it every week.
Its cover stares at me every time I slink past the corner candystore.
I read it in the basement of the Berkeley Public Library.
It's always telling me about responsibility. Businessmen are serious. Movie
producers are serious. Everybody's serious but me.

...America you don't really want to go to war.
America it's them bad Russians.
Them Russians them Russians and them Chinamen. And them Russians.
The Russia wants to eat us alive. The Russia's power mad. She wants to take
our cars from out our garages.
Her wants to grab Chicago. Her needs a Red Reader's Digest. her wants our
auto plants in Siberia. Him big bureaucracy running our fillingstations.
That no good. Ugh. Him makes Indians learn read. Him need big black niggers.
Hah. Her make us all work sixteen hours a day. Help.
America this is quite serious.
America this is the impression I get from looking in the television set.
America is this correct?
I'd better get right down to the job.
It's true I don't want to join the Army or turn lathes in precision parts
factories, I'm nearsighted and psychopathic anyway.
America I'm putting my queer shoulder to the wheel.





15 comments:

Susie Clevenger said...

What a powerful piece. I hadn't read it before. I can see why it would inspire you. It seems so current. I wonder if we will ever learn from our mistakes.

Fireblossom said...

It's always been a huge favorite of mine, too. As I mentioned here not long ago, he signed my copy, which was really cool.

I love the part about everyone being responsible and serious except him.

Lolamouse said...

Great one, Izy! You're right-it's as relevant today as when he wrote it.

Helen said...

Great choice! A man ahead of his time, for all seasons. His work echos so many of what my generation were feeling in the 60's. Vietnam, civil / human rights.

"Your machinery is too much for me" sums it up perfectly.

Kay L. Davies said...

Shay chose my favorite part, too: "Everybody's serious but me."
Excellent choice, Izy. Ginsberg may not have wanted to put his shoulder to the factory wheel, but he was never afraid to put his life on the line. Admitting to communist sympathies was almost a death sentence in the US for quite some time. It most certainly ended in a form of excommunication for many good people.
K

Kerry O'Connor said...

America why are your libraries full of tears?

If the libraries of the world hold record of human dealings, failures and cover-ups (called History) then there's many in this world full of tears, mine included.

Thank you for sharing these extracts, Izy. Such words ring with truth, and such a writer teaches every poet to be accountable for his or her own generation, or at least to make an honest account of it.

cleemckenziebooks said...

One of my claims to fame is I met Allen Ginsberg at City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco a hundred years ago, or so it seems. I'm still awed by that. His words have always been so powerful. Glad to read this today.

New follower:
http://cleemckenziebooks.com

hedgewitch said...

One of the best poems of our time, I think, and I always have liked it better than the more well known Howl, though that's of course, classic and mind-bending. I love the one-liners in this that are like little barbs, getting into your skin and wiggling to the inner part of you. Fantastic choice, Izy!

Marian said...

*round of applause*

sharplittlepencil.com said...

Izy, thanks for the reminder about why I wanted to write poetry. I wish I could use phrases like "Go fuck yourself with your atom bomb," because I really feel that way. I mean it. My words are harsh for a pacifist, but because of my husband's job and sneaky little gossips, I can't use those words on my blog.

You know what really got me going? the final few lines. He doesn't make a huge deal about being gay, and yet there it is, "my queer shoulder to the wheel." Immediately, in his nearsightedness and gender ID, he brings it home, using himself as the vessel.

Damn, he just does me in. Great choice, Izy!

Herotomost said...

Damn, I never have seen that...I am struck..awesome. Thanks IG.

Sandy Carlson said...

Recently I watched an animated version of this. The challenge he presents inspires me.

Peggy said...

A classic for sure Izy. I saw Ginsberg speak once. Actually he was not good at reading his own poetry!! But it was fun to see him.

Hannah said...

When we had the Ginsberg challenge this was the poem that drew me most.

Excellent choice and wonderful post!

Thank you, Izy! :)

Ella said...

Bravo Izy!
I so agree he was ahead of his time~
I wish he could time travel!