The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“A Supermarket in California” is a short poem in free verse, its twelve lines divided into three stanzas. The title suggests a bland setting—not the expected source of a poem. The title and setting prove ironic, however, as Allen Ginsberg demonstrates that for most people in America, exploration goes no further than the local grocery store.

The poem is written in the first person, which is typical of Ginsberg’s work; he writes very personally of his visions and experiences in America. Ginsberg is speaking in the first person not only to share his immediate sensuous experiences but also to invoke, by using this perspective, the American poet in whose footsteps he is attempting to walk: Walt Whitman.

In fact, Ginsberg speaks directly to Whitman in the poem’s first line as he wearily trudges down the streets of suburban California, “self-conscious looking at the full moonshopping for images.” He enters a bright “neon fruit supermarket” (line 2) as if here he might find the same image of America—the diversity and freedom, the limitless, democratic possibilities—that Whitman saw. What he sees in the market, however, is only the multitude of fruit and the families shopping together as if this were the richest experience they could share.

At the end of stanza 1, Ginsberg also spies the twentieth century Spanish poet Federico García Lorca standing by the watermelons. The sighting of García Lorca—a homosexual like...

(The entire section is 538 words.)