Here's a virtual movie of Allen Ginsberg of his much loved poem "A Supermarket in California"

"A Supermarket in California" is a poem by American poet Allen Ginsberg first published in Howl and Other Poems in 1956. In the poem, the narrator imagines visiting a supermarket in California where he finds Federico García Lorca and Walt Whitman shopping.[1] Whitman, who is also discussed in "Howl", is a character common in Ginsberg's poems, and is often referred to as Ginsberg's poetic model.[2] "A Supermarket in California", published in 1956, was intended to be a tribute to Whitman in the centennial year of the first edition of Leaves of Grass.

"A Supermarket in California" is a prose poem with an irregular format that does not adhere to traditional poetic form including stanza and rhyme scheme. The format is a resemblance of the long-winded aspect of speech. The long-line style is attributed to Whitman and "as with Whitman, by the time we have traversed the stretch of one of these long lines, we have experienced a rapid set of transformations." [6] This is shown within the poem's location, the metaphorical supermarket and its symbolism of Ginsberg's America. The form of Ginsberg's poem comes from "his knowledge of Walt Whitman's long-line style" [7] which was an experiment for Ginsberg before he adapted it to all his works later on.
In the opening line, the poet addresses Whitman, or Whitman's spirit as he finds himself "shopping for images", which Douglas Allen Burns suggests puts a capitalist spin on the situation described in the poem.[5] The narrator sees families of consumers shopping in the market alongside the figures of deceased poets Lorca and Whitman, both of whom were homosexual poets like Ginsberg himself.[8] The poet notes the sexuality of Whitman as he describes the character as a "childless, lonely old grubber, poking among the meats in the refrigerator and eyeing the grocery boys".[9] Bill Morgan also writes that Ginsberg always saw Whitman as a kindred spirit in regards to their similar sexualities, seeing "a self-imposed repression of his innate queerness," which is evident in the poem through its idolization of Whitman.[10] Betsy Erkkila, in Whitman the Political Poet, suggests that Ginsberg brings Whitman into the poem to show the difference between the America described in the works of Whitman and that which exists in 1955 when "A Supermarket in California" is written. In her opinion, "America" is not described as being a physical place but one that exists in the imagination of the poet and can "live and die only with him".[11]
Ginsberg introduces the character of Lorca in line 7, asking "..and you, Garcia Lorca, what were you doing down by the watermelons?". Lorca was a famous Spanish poet and playwright who had died in 1936, yet his spirit appears in the supermarket in 1955 when the poem is written. Lorca's works were often classified as surrealistic and were considered to have homoerotic tones.[3]
In the final lines of the poem, Ginsberg turns once again to the image of Whitman, asking:
Ah, dear father, greybeard, 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 in the black
waters of Lethe?
In Greek mythology, Charon was the ferryman who carried the dead into the underworld, across the river Styx. The River Lethe was a different river in the underworld, which caused those who drank its waters to experience complete forgetfulness.

Kind Regards

Jim Clark
All rights are reserved on this video recording copyright Jim Clark 2013

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