Reading, Writing, and Living the Revolution: Intertextual Conversation in Ginsberg’s “A Supermarket in California”

Faculty Mentor(s)

Dr. Jesus Montaño, Hope College

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Allen Ginsberg was one of the most influential poets of the Beat Generation, a group of writers whose work provoked social revolution beginning in the late 1940s. Though Ginsberg is often remembered for Howl: and Other Poems (1959), as well as the trial of this work’s content for “indecency,” my project focuses on a less frequently discussed poem from Howl: “A Supermarket in California.” In “A Supermarket in California,” Ginsberg transforms his stroll through a conventional supermarket into a forum for discussing his revolutionary stance within United States culture with imagined companions, poets Walt Whitman and Federico García Lorca. Much of the critical response to this poem characterizes it as a critique of middle-class materialism in the 1950s and neglects Ginsberg’s choice of companions. My research expands upon George Monteiro’s claim in his recent article "Peaches and Penumbras: Ginsberg's 'Supermarket in California'" that Ginsberg invokes Whitman and Lorca, because poets summon “poets of the past for comfort and reassurance.” I propose Ginsberg means to do more than just seek “comfort and reassurance” from Whitman and Lorca, suggesting Ginsberg is pursuing their guidance in reshaping the mainstream culture of his America to be more socially accepting. Whitman in the 19th century and Lorca in the 20th were both supporters of marginalized social groups, as well as inhabitants of socially and politically polarized nations. Consequently, Ginsberg saw these men who used their poetry to endorse creation of more accepting social communities as role models for his revolutionary poetic aspirations. My project is an introduction to addressing how the ongoing dialogue between revolutionary poets has produced a shared vision of a more congruous political and social order that has been passed down over time, exemplified in the discourse between Cuban intellectuals of the 1960s living under Castro and the Beats in the Cubalogues.

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