A Supermarket in California (Critical Overview)
|Author Biography |
|Poem Summary |
|Historical Context |
|For Further Study |
Published as part of Howl and Other Poems, “A Supermarket in California” piggybacked on the notoriety and success of that volume. After already selling out the first edition (printed by Villiers in England), a portion of the second printing of Howl was stopped by United States Custom officials at San Francisco, who impounded it, claiming that the writing was obscene. After a series of hearings during which the book’s social relevance was debated, charges were dropped and the book was released. “Howl” comprises the bulk of the book, and “A Supermarket in California” is one of the shorter “other” poems in the volume, which also includes “In the Baggage Room at Greyhound”; “Sunflower Sutra”; and “America.” In Allen Ginsberg, Thomas Merrill asserts that “A Supermarket in California” mirrors Ginsberg’s own bewilderment with America, as he attempts to balance his own hope for and despair about the country. It is difficult, if not impossible, for the poet not to be a shopper. “Here is poet as consumer filling his shopping cart for the ingredients of his art among ‘Aisles full of husbands!’” Merrill writes.
In a mixed review written in 1957 and appearing in Sewanee Review, poet and critic James Dickey argues that Ginsberg lacks a sense of craft in “Howl,” claiming that just about anybody can be a poet. “In each case the needed equipment is very simple,” Dickey says, “a life, with its memories, frustrations, secret wishes ... an ability to write elementary prose and to supply it with rather more exclamation points than might normally be called for.” Dickey goes on to question Ginsberg’s approach...