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20090325 Ginsberg, Rich, and Bishop

Page history last edited by Reina Factor 11 years, 6 months ago

The mid 20th century marked the emergence of two counterculture writing movements—the Beats and the Confessionals.  These movements rejected standards of dominant American society and promoted lifestyles which clashed with middle class American ideals. The Beats' style of writing, most clearly demonstrated in Jack Kerouac’s stream of conscious novel On the Road, portrays the rejection of the Eisenhower era through depictions of drug use and travel. 


  Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997), one of the primary beat authors, is known for poems which include “Howl” and “A Supermarket in California.”  Educated at Columbia University, Ginsberg rejected the society from which he came. His two main influences were English romantic poet and painter William Blake and Walt Whitman, the American poet.  Whitman’s influence is evident in Ginsberg’s use of long, sprawling lines, which embody a focus on democracy.  Ginsberg’s poetry utilizes three main concepts—madness, performance, and the body.  People seen as against society were often institutionalized and labeled as “mad,” therefore, in Ginsberg’s writing, madness is portrayed through references to drug use and accentuated with punctuation and repetition.  Ginsberg’s poetry is related to performance through language, but also by actual performances of the poetry in which Ginsberg engaged audiences.   He emphasizes the male body with explicit language that one is used to hearing about a woman’s body, but is surprised to hear referencing a male.

     The lifestyle of a beat writer was considered dangerous; therefore, women such as Adrienne Rich (b 1929) and Elizabeth Bishop(1911-1979) turned to confessionals.  This style—which relates to Emily Dickinson's writings—reveals intimate details of the author’s life, and often focused on sexuality and madness.  Like Ginsberg, Rich also rejected mainstream American society—she became a radical feminist.  Bishop, on the other hand, lived in Brazil and avoided American society.   




From: “A Supermarket in California” by Allen Ginsberg
 "What peaches and what penumbras!  Whole families shopping at night! Aisles full of husbands!  Wives in the avocados, babies in the tomatoes! -- and you, Garcia Lorca, what were you doing down by the watermelons?"

 - This excerpt from Ginsberg's "A Supermarket in California" explores how both people and food have become commodified.  By setting the poem in a grocery store, an average symbol of American life, and playing with the items and location people know so well, Ginsberg forces the reader to look at these items and oneself from a different perspective, questioning the identities society has come to accept.  This also demonstrates the extreme consumerism which was increasing during this time in America.   


From: “A Supermarket in California” by Allen Ginsberg

"I saw you, Walt Whitman, childless, lonely old grubber, poking among the meats in the refrigerator and eyeing the grocery boys." 


-This portion not only clearly demonstrates the influence Whitman has had on Ginsberg, as he is physically in the poem, but also illustrates the focus on alternative sexuality which the beats were trying to make acceptable.  Whitman was gay and his presence in the poem serves as an example for other homosexuals, such as Ginsberg himself.


From: “Howl” by Allen Ginsberg

"I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix"


-This opening line of Howl incorporates all three key aspects of Ginsberg's writing, madness, the body, and performativity.  The emphasis on drugs and actually mentioning that people went "mad" signifies the emphasis that is placed on this theme throughout the poem.  Further, the fact that the people are "naked" sets up the focus on body parts, as it seems that the people are stripped down and already attention is drawn to the body.  Finally, the aspect of performattivity is present in the sense that there is repetition in the pattern of the poem and an emphasis on the verb.  This creates disembodied actions, as if the descriptions and actions could be carried out by any individual.  





Beat Generation: a counterculture group of American writers between the 1950s-1970s who rejected mainstream American life and were often associated with drug use.  

Performativity: the idea of portraying a certain persona in one's poems and also in their lifestyle.  This removes a certain authenticity of the poetry.



Comments (6)

Max Tenney said

at 7:23 pm on Mar 26, 2009

hey guys. feel free to edit what i've done (rich and bishop in 26 words or less, anyone?). plus, we still need passages and terms. holler-- max.

Reina Factor said

at 8:28 pm on Mar 26, 2009

i added some information, but now it is too long, so please, cut away!! also, does anybody have an exact definition of confessionals?? and passages!!

Brian Croxall said

at 10:05 pm on Mar 26, 2009

Let me remind you that you don't _have_ to have 3 passages on the notes. You must have one, and I can think of at least two off the top of my head that are important.

Reina Factor said

at 10:26 am on Mar 27, 2009

hey guys, i put up some passages, but if you think of any other important ones then delete one of the other ones and make sure that we only have 3!! thanks!!

Brian Croxall said

at 11:10 pm on Apr 16, 2009

These notes are very good. I especially like the passages that you chose (the three most important, in my opinion) and what you write about them. The summary of the lecture is also good; the last paragraph about Rich and Bishop serves as a good reminder of what Amy said about these poets in the end of class, which was kind of rushed. The only thing that I quibble with is what you say about "performativity" removing some authenticity from the poetry. I'm simply not sure what that means; it needs to be clarified.

Brian Croxall said

at 11:12 pm on Apr 16, 2009

And since I talked about this in the next day's discussion section, here is the "too simple story" as to why Rich and Bishop are on the syllabus. We told the story of mid-century poetry as being invested in representing group experience (Ginsberg, Brooks) or personal experience (Lowell, Plath, and Roethke), categories that are frequently thought of as being the realms of the beats and the confessionals, respectively.

Rich and Bishop are on the syllabus to disrupt this story, to help you see that there is more going on than just the beats or the confessionals. Rich's work is staunchly feminist. And Bishop's is especially given to formalism. Through their work we see that poetry is doing many things at once at this point in time.

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