A Supermarket in California

by Allen Ginsberg

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Ginsberg's poem "Supermarket in California" shows his thoughts on degenerating America in terms of consumerism. How does he use "speak, talk, think" stream of consciousness in the poem? What is his relation to Walt Whitman, and why does Ginsberg envision the older poet in such a setting? Is the setting relevant to Ginsberg’s understanding of his own poetry?

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Throughout the poem "A Supermarket in California," Allen Ginsberg describes a fictional encounter with Walt Whitman. Immediately, this shows us that Ginsberg read Whitman's work and was heavily influenced by the older poet (Whitman died in 1892, while Ginsberg was born in 1926).

In this poem, Ginsberg is watching and following Whitman. The two poets never speak to each other and never interact directly. However, Ginsberg describes following the older poet and doing as he did. By the end of the poem, they are aimlessly shoplifting, together, but still without any interaction.

This could be a metaphor for how Ginsberg felt about inspiration. Perhaps he is acknowledging that he has been following Whitman but can't ever truly understand what that poem was doing and thinking. He's following closely and carefully but at a distance.

The descriptions with Ginsberg uses in regard to Whitman are also telling. He writes: "childless, lonely old grubber," "graybeard, lonely old courage-teacher," and yet he also relates strongly to this figure, calling him father and saying:

lights out in the houses, we'll both be lonely.

He identifies with what he knows of Whitman but acknowledges that there will always be a certain distance between the poet and the reader.

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