I cannot help but laugh aloud at this particular line from Allen Ginsberg’s “A Supermarket in California”.
As readers of Walt Whitman, we’ve all come to understand that in Whitman’s attempt to be the poet of all he became a guide and an influence for many. I guess I knew this, but never really saw it on an individual level until I ran into Ginsberg’s poetry for what seems like the millionth time in my academic career. I knew that Allen Ginsberg was influenced enormously by Whitman but I never really realized just how much of a guiding light Whitman was to Ginsberg until now.
I believe that Whitman has managed to incorporate a little bit of everyone into his poems. He appeals to the human spirit and I think the Whitman that most people read has captured an important part of humanity and a freedom that we all desire, some more desperately than others. The Whitman that appealed to Ginsberg was the homosexual
Whitman and the courageous Whitman. Ginsberg refers to Whitman in “A Supermarket in California” as a “lonely old courage-teacher”. It seems to me that Ginsberg found courage in accepting himself and his homosexuality in the courage that Whitman had. Not only was Ginsberg inspired in his life by Whitman but, like so many others, found something quite enticing and desirable about Whitman’s poetry.
Ginsberg’s poem, “A Supermarket in California” is an incredibly Whitman-esque poem. From the unfathomably lengthy lines to the critique of worldly things, this work has Whitman’s influence all over it (not to mention Ginsberg’s inclusion of Whitman beginning in line 1 and other “sightings” throughout). Interestingly, Ginsberg seems to restrain Whitman’s grand catalogues of humanity and reduce them into the constraints of a single supermarket. The men and women that Whitman would detail in great length all seem to be present in this supermarket, but without any grandiose. Ginsberg is critical of the supermarket emphasizing that the nature that Whitman so loved and described is now reduced to bits of nature that can be purchased within a supermarket.
I think Ginsberg is showing strong Whitman influences but questioning them in a different society that Whitman knew. I wonder how Whitman would feel about seeing his great catalogues of humanity reduced to a single institution.