My Inner Beat Poet and “America Still”

        Poems typically take time to polish. I am an MFA student at College of Charleston, a fiction writer, and I would not dare call myself a poet. I have, however, written many poems, starting back in middle school many years ago. Until college, though, I sat and wrote a poem, felt a certain release upon completion, and then set that poem aside forever (except for the many scratched almost illegibly on paper-bag book covers). In college I began to understand how poems take shape, how poets often rework, revise, reimagine, and even totally rewrite poems in order to arrive at a point of accepted completion. For the poem that follows in this post, “America Still,” I did none of this. I wrote this poem in the same manner I once wrote poems in middle school and high school (admittedly, there were even a few I rushed through in college workshops in such a manner). All this essentially to say, I am not even near confident in this poem, nor close to calling it complete, nor do I feel quite as stark about the subject matter, but I am confident in one thing: I began to release my inner Beat poet onto the page.

        Since the Beat poets emphasized the practice of allowing poetry to flow from within, to deny the deep urge to rework a poem, allowing the consciousness a form of free reign (whether or not they in fact adhered to such a practice), it seems fitting that my poem that follows is an initial draft, one that I reread only once and only made small changes to line breaks in that second readthrough. I was assigned the task of creating an imitation or a response poem aimed at a selection of poems from a group of the Beat poets. After reading a bit about the Beat poets, their style, their aims, their context, and then reading a bunch of poems from some of the most well-known Beat poets, I began to consider what I might write for this assignment. Two poems in particular jumped out at me, and they are the inspiration for “America Still,” below. Those two poems are Ginsberg’s “America,” and Corso’s “The American Way.” As I read these two poems, I thought about how not that much has changed, how the points Ginsberg and Corso make seem to have fallen on deaf ears.

My poem is sort of an imitation based on both Ginsberg’s and Corso’s poems, modeled more so on Corso’s, and it is also sort of a response; I think of “America Still” more like an update, though none of these designations are truly accurate. What emerged was probably more like my own thing, written with as little mental interference as I could manage, with as little reliance on literary devices as I could refrain from in the moment, and written in one long (-ish) sitting, from the first line until the last. My hope is that the Beat spirit lingers in there somewhere, and, whether good or atrocious, the Beat mode of minimal conscious neuroticism was a freeing experience, even if I have to close my eyes and hold my breath as I click “publish” on this post. One final note: this is the first time I have ever posted on a blog (in fact I don’t even use any social media), so please forgive me if the formatting is odd.


America Still


I hesitate to say America

is moving backwards

so let’s call America still

walking in place, slow

paced, like a lazy, complacent

stroll on a treadmill

I may not be a great American


America is a myth, the American

Dream is a myth.

I dream the American Dream

but wake to the American

reality, the dream turned

nightmare within

America still


It’s no surprise really…


a foundation built on evil

built on the backs of battered

despised hated feared people

people seen only as

dollar sign people

economic power people

political power people

certainly seen as less than



a foundation built on a myth

built on a marketing campaign

a slogan with little practical merit

a beacon on a hill, shining

meaningless without intention

of ever reaching the peak


a marketing campaign designed

to reach into our hearts

to create nationalistic pride

ethnocentricity, our way

the only way, the best way

see the shining beacon

that is us the fabricated glory

All men are created equal,

(All wealthy white landowning men,

are created equal)

a marketing rallying cry

for those who knew the true

meaning a promise unfulfilled, never

meant to be, a foundational promise

built on a myth, but wait! America says

that was long ago strides forward

have been made, and to that I say



see emancipation, joyous for many

for many seething scorn, a vendetta

see convict leasing

see red lining it’s ever-present effects

still heartbreaking still unaddressed

see murderous police brutality offspring

the racist underpinnings of the formation

police, the American origin still

echoes of prejudicial conceptualizations

impacting millions of our neighbors daily

in streets, in stores, in hospitals, everywhere


see America still insist on freedom of religion

so long as that religion is the right one

as interpreted by wealthy white men

Jesus from socialist to staunch conservative

see America still insist on government not

representative of a particular religion

but rally particular bases, religious leaders

herding sheep wherever desired

wherever assured they may keep

their extravagant lights on

see the great American divide


see power dynamics wealth disparity

corporate taxes wages

donors lobbyists shadow dockets

financing conflicts of interest

see blatant hypocrisy blatant lies still

everywhere proving we’ll believe

anything told enough by enough people

see nuclear stockpiles we’re allowed

but proudly disallow elsewhere

(oh, but we’re responsible, we

ensure peace, we’re deterrence—peace

established by threat of destruction

is not peace

but buying time, fostering animosity)


see hundreds of thousands of people

without representation (D.C. to Puerto Rico)

taxation without representation—justification,

our foundational claim of grievance

seeking support for revolution

an easier pill to swallow

so many easy pills to swallow

flooding the streets killing

stacks filling the morgues

stacks pooling in banks-


see marketed societal constructs

(you’re gross if you don’t wash every day,

you’re gross if you don’t shave everything,

you’re gross if you wear something other

you’re gross if you’re other

than what we tell you, let us tell you

what you should drink, you should eat,

you should buy, you should spend, you should sell,

we’ll make it easy so you don’t have anything

to think, don’t even bother to think)


see women’s place not so long ago still

a widespread mentality

(raise the next generation our way

but God stay quiet about it, until

of course you have dollars to spend, until

you become another untapped market, oh

and I guess you can vote since you pay taxes now

and made a big stink about it)

see the stifled voices the brave, the audacious, the motivated

speak about the dream of attaining

the promise of America, the true Dream,

watch them gunned down in public for daring

and witness the power of the American myth


see the rise in education, the banning of books

the importance of education, the demonization

of education the power of education

on the status quo threatening the status

of the masters

see education becoming a target

always a target


see the slug of progress ooze a gooey trail

creeping slowly along then some thoughtless

compassionless privileged children finally

get close enough to smother it with salt

methodically wiping away whatever remains

of that glistening tenacious trail of hope


see all the American serfs blinded

by the American myth the American

Dream the marketing gods maintaining

their kingdom of capital gains high

on the mountaintop of fortune, after all


the American dream is for the fortunate few

those with a fortune,

and bullets and triggers

for the rest of us,

triggers triggers everywhere

screaming triggers in schools

hairline triggers in homes

triggers in stores triggers on the news

propaganda triggers shame triggers

self-image self-doubt self-worth triggers

triggers aimed at everyone always

only alleviated by purchasing power,

fears, sadness, loneliness, disconnectedness

all sold in a neat package, wrapped in a digital

bow, sold complete with a cure, BUY NOW!

(we know you want to, we know what you want

we track your every consumer move your every search

your every insecurity and sell sell sell

that info to whoever pays)

see now the American myth, built on buying

and selling people, the same America still.


The myth of America pervades

penetrates every day, every facet

solidified social consciousness

America the free, screaming freedom!

as if it only exists here,

if it exists here at all,

America the constrained! America still

The land of selective plenty!

The land of divided people

discriminated people fearful people

The land of forgotten people

ignored belittled ostracized people

The land of value not values

The land of hordes of struggling people

gladly taking scraps from discarded plates

covered in oil tossed from private jets

leavings flushed from gilded toilet bowls

equality is a lie in America! still

we worship at the altar of America

give thanks and praise and our last dollars

to our lords, who realized the American Dream


America is a religion, consumers

are the pulpit, the constitution is the bible,

the almighty dollar is God in America still


Yet Americans are mostly good people

a fact not meant to be taken in any way

nationalistic, superior, mostly good people

exist in every single country on this fragile

wondrous world the people are not fully

to blame, the people must evolve the myths

must evolve the myths that keep us down

keep us in our place, people repressed

spiraling grasping at purpose acceptance

comradery fleeting feeling free alone

in angst in collectives marginalized

forcing forward from a fringe

this is not good, America!


Be warned, America, take notice learn

from history—where people feel unsteady

misfortune, being downtrodden

becomes a tiresome normality, wealth

becomes and remains visibly concentrated

at the upper echelon of society,

people cannot forever be kept oblivious,

or distracted with products or conspiracy theories,

these factors have universally led to downfall


Please do not let this happen, America! so

the next generations may finally approach

that hill reach out and touch that shining beacon

and begin to make good on the promises

of the American myth, so there will be

an America still.

2 Responses to My Inner Beat Poet and “America Still”

  1. Prof VZ August 31, 2022 at 3:28 pm #

    Great work here — it’s a solid imitation, and the way you set it up helps the reader sense how hard it is to get out of your own way in a poem like this. This poem, like Corso’s (and like many of the Beats’ American laments) is didactic and exhaustive, but it also leaves room in its associative flow for really striking turns, as when you write “stacks filling the morgues / stacks pooling in banks” or “gladly taking scraps from discarded plates / covered in oil tossed from private jets / leavings flushed from gilded toilet bowls.” These moments bring us closer to Ginsberg, whose “America” often seems to get highjacked by its own language, but these intrusions of other voices, but these leaps of logic and sense.
    In any case, it’s really interesting to think what a didactic poem looks like as intentionally unmediated or uncontrolled. Like so many other contrary tendencies that Beats employe (mixing sacred and profane, the literate and the unlearned) this creates some interesting effects.

  2. ekwooten1 August 31, 2022 at 8:09 pm #

    One similarity I noticed in your poem with a lot of the other Beat poets is a transition between more controlled, crafted writing and more extemporaneous writing later in the poem, as if the ideas start off in a box but then spill out. The way you start your poem exhibits a lot of evidence of intentional craft: “I hesitate to say America / is moving backwards / so let’s call America still / walking in place, slow / paced, like a lazy, complacent / stroll on a treadmill.” The vivid treadmill metaphor is clear and functional. Then you have some assonance in the words “place,” “paced,” and “complacent,” and some consonance with “slow,” “complacent,” and “stroll,” to overall give the opening of your poem a sense that you start out with a plan and then go more stream-of-consciousness from there. I think this is one of the things our readings this week pointed out–there’s often a lot of evidence in Beat poetry that the writers did carefully craft their work, respond to influences from other writers’ structures and styles and topics, and revise constantly, despite its reputation as a purely spontaneous form.

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