Archive | August, 2011

“America I’ve Given You All…

3 Aug

…and now I’m nothing.”

Very few poems have stuck with my brain over the years. My mind is mathematically built and, more often than not, I just don’t get poetry unless someone holds my hand and helps me cross the metaphorical street. This can be done in a few ways. Either someone can just tell me what the bloody thing is about, or the poet has to make what they’re talking about so freakin’ obvious that even one of my ESL students can get the cartoon light bulb to appear above their noggins.

E.E. Cummings (and yes, it’s capitalized) is an example of the former. I’m obsessed by his poetry, but I’ve needed someone to tell me what every single one of his poems was about. I love where they take me once I know, but I can’t get there by myself. I just don’t know how to read the map.

Poets like Shane Koyczan and Maya Angelou are perfect examples of the latter. It’s pretty damn easy to see what they’re talking about and their genius comes from the way they craft the obviousness of their point. There’s no map needed because they’ve left sign posts all over the place.

But every now and then (and more then than now), a poem comes along that just eats at me. Maybe I don’t understand it at first, but I don’t want to ask anyone about it either. I just stare at it. I pick at it. I repeat the lines to myself. It haunts me. I can’t stop listening or thinking about it. It’s like the thing has crawled in through my orifices and is now seeping out my pores. It bleeds out my eyes. I see it everywhere. I can’t stop.

the glorious man himself

America by Allen Ginsberg was the first to do this to me. It’s still with me. The line “I’m obsessed by Time magazine” has dogged me for years. I’ve never been able to get that strange preposition out of my head. I spent months thinking about why it was used, and then years marvelling at the genius of the usage. It became a part of my lexicon.

Even the first line of the poem has stuck to me like a freakish nightmare–the kind that is terrifying because for some unknown reason you don’t want it to end.

There is a recording of Ginsberg reading the poem. iTunes tells me that I’ve listened to it 34 times. And that’s only on this iTunes. And even that is only since I’ve had iTunes.

His voice is addictive. Here is a recording:

I’d love to know if there are other poems that do this to people. Am I alone in my queer obsessions? Are there other examples?

You can check out the poem here.

Or I guess I could just copy and paste it…that works too.

America
by Allen Ginsberg

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.
America when will you be angelic?
When will you take off your clothes?
When will you look at yourself through the grave?
When will you be worthy of your million Trotskyites?
America why are your libraries full of tears?
America when will you send your eggs to India?
I’m sick of your insane demands.
When can I go into the supermarket and buy what I need with my good looks?
America after all it is you and I who are perfect not the next world.
Your machinery is too much for me.
You made me want to be a saint.
There must be some other way to settle this argument.
Burroughs is in Tangiers I don’t think he’ll come back it’s sinister.
Are you being sinister or is this some form of practical joke?
I’m trying to come to the point.
I refuse to give up my obsession.
America stop pushing I know what I’m doing.
America the plum blossoms are falling.
I haven’t read the newspapers for months, everyday somebody goes on trial for
murder.
America I feel sentimental about the Wobblies.
America I used to be a communist when I was a kid and I’m not sorry.
I smoke marijuana every chance I get.
I sit in my house for days on end and stare at the roses in the closet.
When I go to Chinatown I get drunk and never get laid.
My mind is made up there’s going to be trouble.
You should have seen me reading Marx.
My psychoanalyst thinks I’m perfectly right.
I won’t say the Lord’s Prayer.
I have mystical visions and cosmic vibrations.
America I still haven’t told you what you did to Uncle Max after he came over
from Russia.

I’m addressing you.
Are you going to let our emotional life be run by Time Magazine?
I’m obsessed by Time Magazine.
I read it every week.
Its cover stares at me every time I slink past the corner candystore.
I read it in the basement of the Berkeley Public Library.
It’s always telling me about responsibility. Businessmen are serious. Movie
producers are serious. Everybody’s serious but me.
It occurs to me that I am America.
I am talking to myself again.

Asia is rising against me.
I haven’t got a chinaman’s chance.
I’d better consider my national resources.
My national resources consist of two joints of marijuana millions of genitals
an unpublishable private literature that goes 1400 miles and hour and
twentyfivethousand mental institutions.
I say nothing about my prisons nor the millions of underpriviliged who live in
my flowerpots under the light of five hundred suns.
I have abolished the whorehouses of France, Tangiers is the next to go.
My ambition is to be President despite the fact that I’m a Catholic.

America how can I write a holy litany in your silly mood?
I will continue like Henry Ford my strophes are as individual as his
automobiles more so they’re all different sexes
America I will sell you strophes $2500 apiece $500 down on your old strophe
America free Tom Mooney
America save the Spanish Loyalists
America Sacco & Vanzetti must not die
America I am the Scottsboro boys.
America when I was seven momma took me to Communist Cell meetings they
sold us garbanzos a handful per ticket a ticket costs a nickel and the
speeches were free everybody was angelic and sentimental about the
workers it was all so sincere you have no idea what a good thing the party
was in 1835 Scott Nearing was a grand old man a real mensch Mother
Bloor made me cry I once saw Israel Amter plain. Everybody must have
been a spy.
America you don’re really want to go to war.
America it’s them bad Russians.
Them Russians them Russians and them Chinamen. And them Russians.
The Russia wants to eat us alive. The Russia’s power mad. She wants to take
our cars from out our garages.
Her wants to grab Chicago. Her needs a Red Reader’s Digest. her wants our
auto plants in Siberia. Him big bureaucracy running our fillingstations.
That no good. Ugh. Him makes Indians learn read. Him need big black niggers.
Hah. Her make us all work sixteen hours a day. Help.
America this is quite serious.
America this is the impression I get from looking in the television set.
America is this correct?
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.