So what was Ginsberg doing with his queer shoulder?

I cannot stop thinking about it. I read “America” a few semesters ago and took it for what I thought it was: a big “Eff You, America!”, a lamentation, and then a moment of realization that spikes action where Ginsberg decides to do something. After all, that is what Ginsberg seems to do, he laments and then he does something about it. Although we never quite get to see what he does, we are allowed to see a few sentences of the beginning. He gathers up sunflower scepters, he gives sermons to the soul – to anyone who will listen, he evokes Whitman, he finds hope.

With this as evidence, I sort of just thought that’s what happens in “America”. Ginsberg laments and then he realizes he’s part of America too and he puts his “queer shoulder to the wheel”. He lends a helping hand, he springs into action – that’s what I thought until Charles blew my mind. For some reason I never considered that there could possible be another interpretation of the final line of “America”. And all of a sudden I realize there isn’t just Charles’ view and my view, there is a bunch of inbetweens!

Maybe Ginsberg is begging and pleading with America. Maybe Ginsberg was obsessed with America and refused to give up his obsession. Maybe Ginsberg was ostracized. Maybe Ginsberg was testing America. Maybe Ginsberg got the hell out of there. Maybe Ginsberg recovered… maybe he didn’t.

So is Ginsberg not the Ginsberg I had thought he was? Does he give up in “America”/on America? Does he lend a helping hand or does he become reclusive? Does Ginsberg actually NOT recover from this crisis? I need answers, people.

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4 Responses to So what was Ginsberg doing with his queer shoulder?

  1. AVZ says:

    I love your attention to a more complex Ginsberg. A Ginsberg that doesn’t move confidently from crisis to recovery, but rather than stalls out at times.

    We talked a lot in class about Ginsberg the recluse. He’s always absconding (well, at least in the supermarket and “Howl”) to some quiet cabin, some distant local, some space at a remove from whatever it is that’s troubling him. I like to think of this as the space that poetry–that form–allows him. “All its beauty in its form,” he says of the sunflower. It’s like Espada’s “Republic of Poetry.” Sometimes poetry just needs to mark out a separate space. Not an autonomous sphere like the High Moderns tried to create, but a space apart. A utopian space. A nowhere that at moments of clarity is also now / here.

  2. Charles Carmody says:

    I think that Ginsberg can be anything that you want him to be. Just like Whitman can be anything you want him to be. After reading comments on my last post, I honestly do not know if their is recovery or not in the poem. I do not know if Ginsberg gives up or not. The realization that there is “a bunch of in betweens” is huge in my opinion. We discuss poetry in and out of class as if one interpretation is the best interpretation or the ‘right’ interpretation, but maybe their are an infinite number of ‘right’ interpretations. I would say that to interpret this poem as a deeply intellectual poem about Chuckie Cheeses might be a stretch, but if the reader sees a giant mouse in this poem, then who am I to argue with him or her about their own personal interpretation. I still personally stick by my opinion that the only recovery seen is the poem is Ginsberg’s realization that it is alright if he separates himself from his imposed national identity even though this interpretation might not be seen as publicly or academically correct.

  3. Charles Carmody says:

    I want to add that I really like how your post ends with questions because this stuff is confusing and sometimes all we can do is ask and then make an interpretation that feels like a stab in the dark.

  4. Justine Rowe says:

    I wish that I could say that I have the answers to these questions, but obviously not, it is likely Ginsberg himself doesn’t have definitive answers either. However, I do think “America” is a fantastic poem (especially when you hear him read it out loud) and I tend to feel more that he is begging and pleading with America. I think he is identifying himself as all the things that are “unAmerica”, but is begging America to accept things outside mass culture. In the last line, “America I’m putting my queer shoulder to the wheel”, I truly feel that Ginsberg is presenting himself the way he is, but that he still wants to help. As ridiculous as it may sound, he would like to contribute to America, but he would also like America to open up a place for him (hinting that this openness might help make them a different, better kind of society).

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