The Beat Generation and poetry have a long history together. Poetry in its simplest form is a way for the author to put down emotion and feeling on paper. The Beat Generation, and especially Allen Ginsberg’s, search for an explanation of what being American means, fits perfectly into the freedom that comes with poetry. The use of sprawling sentences and short, sharp statements makes many Beat poems and works stand out from the rest of the rhythmic rhymes of other poetry found in the United States.
“America”, is an epic poem written by Allen Ginsberg in 1956. In essence, this piece of work is a rant about the way that Ginsberg feels about the path America was taking in the 50s. “America” was written during the height of the red scare and McCarthyism. In a time where communism and anything anti-American was seen as evil, Ginsberg challenges the norm and publishes an opinionated rant where he challenges the beliefs and ideals of the United States and brings to question how America has changed, in Ginsberg’s opinions, for the worst. When examining “America”, one must look into the different voices, or points of view Ginsberg uses as well as the structure of the poem itself. Throughout the majority of the poem, America is addressed in the second person.
With Ginsberg’s sentences beginning with “America…” and his use of the pronoun “you,” Ginsberg is speaking directly every person in America; anyone one from government officials to factory workers. After he reads the line “America I still haven’t told you what you did to Uncle Max after he came over from Russia,” he follows it with “I’m addressing you” as if to remind the reader that they are the one being spoken to.The structure of the poem follows the form of free verse poetry.
The lack of structure in some parts of the poem gives Ginsberg the freedom to say exactly what he wants to say. The Beat Generation term “First Thought, First Write” is a perfect way, to sum up the way that the Beats write and think. Within Ginsberg’s poems and especially “America”, he says exactly what he wants to say and writes his exact thoughts down on paper to give his poems the feeling of authentic, colloquial speech. In addition to using long sentences to give a colloquial feeling, Ginsberg also uses shorter sentences to give a sense of urgency in his writing. Much of the poem is a criticism of capitalism and the way that the government is dealing with leading the nation. Ginsberg’s urgency for the government to change their ways is prevalent in the short sentences and the fast pace of much of the writing. He frowned on the stuffy, rigid rhythms of conventional poetry, and careful, fussily metered lines.
In fact, he wasn’t even a big fan of revising. The idea for Ginsberg was for poetry to capture the spontaneity of the mind and the voice as it emerges, in a perfect representation of exactly what he wanted to portray. Ginsberg relates the spontaneity of much of his longer poems, especially “America”, to the freedom of jazz improvisation. When this idea is taken to the poetry of Ginsberg, the connection becomes very clear. The quick jumps from idea to idea and theme to theme in the poem “America” can be related to the quick changes in musical ideas in jazz and the insanity that many people see on the surface of the music they hear. But, when allowed the chance to be looked at in a deeper level, many themes and ideas begin to have relationships to each other. This except from the last stanza of “America” speaks to the craziness of thoughts whirling on the pages. “.
..That no good. Ugh.
Him make Indians learn read. Him need big black niggers. Hah. Her make us all work sixteen hours a day. Help…I’d better get right down to the job.
It’s true I don’t want to join the Army or turn lathes in precision parts factories, I’m nearsighted and psychopathic anyway. America I’m putting my queer shoulder to the wheel.” After reading this statement and giving it a chance to explain itself, themes become clear and ideas begin to make sense.
Ginsberg touches on his thoughts about the war and how “Him” makes so many groups feel as if they aren’t apart of America as whole. Really all of these thoughts are connected to the greater idea of what America has become. Much of Ginsberg’s own thought crime stems from the theme of communism and Russia.
He does not attempt to hide the fact that he is a communist sympathizer. He references the other million communists, or Trotskyites, living in America and charges America with being unworthy of them. Ginsberg becomes somewhat antagonistic towards the communist issue as he boasts “You should have seen me reading Marx.
My psychoanalyst thinks I’m perfectly right.” In this statement, he is proclaiming that normal, intelligent people can support communism. Ginsberg’s connection to communism is not only a means for a betterment of society but also a huge middle finger to the American society and how the American ideals of the day clash with the counterculture of the Beat Generation. Ginsberg speaks to the resentment he has for the American ideals and values in the 50s in a stanza from “America.
” America I’ve given you all and now I’m nothing. America two dollars and twenty-seven cents January 17, 1956. I can’t stand my own mind. America when will we end the human war? Go fuck yourself with your atom bomb I don’t feel good don’t bother me. I won’t write my poem till I’m in my right mind…This excerpt gives realizations into how Allen Ginsberg’s emotions are directed in an almost revengeful hate toward America, one example found with his statement, “…America when will we end the human war, Go fuck yourself with your atom bomb…”. This line from the poem gives insight into how Ginsberg felt about the war and the resentment he had towards the nuclear testing and destruction that came with the war.
Within this excerpt from “America” the statement “…America two dollars and twenty-seven cents January 17th, 1956…”, speaks to the extreme wealth of many individuals after the war. The phrase brings a history of wealth, the most prominent definition portraying America as it soaked in the economic wealth because of wartime manufacturing. Ginsberg’s opinions on the wealth of Americans after the war is seen in this statement. After the huge explosion in wartime industry, many people, including Ginsberg, were disgusted in the way that many people became incredibly rich from the bloody war. Much of Ginsberg’s negative feelings about America stem from the political and socio-economic scene of the day. The 1950s were a time of cookie-cutter houses and white picket houses.
In Ginsberg’s opinion, everything about these values is false. He speaks to the nature of American life during his time in the statement, “Are you going to let your emotional life be run by Time Magazine? I’m obsessed with Time Magazine.” America was founded on a set of values that made it different from the rest of the world, however, Ginsberg discusses the how he believes many of these values have been contorted. Ginsberg and the counterculture that he ushered in had a profound influence on the greater ideals of America and the questions being asked in the United States. Much of “America” the poem delves into ideas that people were scared to think about and brought to light the issues that many Americans kept in the dark. This poem above all is a search for what it means to really