Monday, April 11, 2011

National Poetry Month: A Supermarket in California

I was first introduced to Allen Ginsberg my sophomore year in an American Literature course. My professor played a recording of Howl, and since we had time left that day, he played the mp3 for A Supermarket in California as well. Howl was amazing, of course. But something about the second poem grabbed me by the throat and refused to let me go. Perhaps it was the opening lines.

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.
I prefer freeverse poetry, and a line like that is the reason why. Read it out loud and let the alliteration of W and S carry you through the line. I especially love the way "with a headache self-conscious looking at the full moon" trips off the tongue.

In my hungry fatigue, and shopping for images, I went
into the neon fruit supermarket, dreaming of your enumerations!
I think anybody who's every tried writing posey or prose has been in this situation. I especially love the idea of "shopping for images". I imagine him browsing, picking each one up like a piece of fruit, rolling it over in his fingers, testing its ripeness and maybe sampling its flavor. You're careful when you shop. You want to pick the best item for your dish, especially in the produce section. You'll probably reject more than you accept, and there's the sense that he could walk out of the supermarket without finding exactly what he's looking for.

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.
I love the series of questions, and the hint of paranoia. The speaker is searching for something, slipping between aisles to spy on the busy store, and at the same time, he imagines he is the object, the thing being followed. Embedded in the poem are so themes of family and friendship, love and loneliness, drama and betrayal, paranoia and suburbia. I feel a more immediate connection to this poem than others written in my own lifetime.

No comments:

Post a Comment