“Wichita Vortex Sutra” is a long poem (690 lines) in free verse that is divided into two main parts. Part 1 (156 lines) was actually written the day after part 2 (534 lines); the poem was written on February 14 and 15, 1966. The word “sutra” in the title is the Sanskrit word for thread, connective cord, or rule, and is used in a religious context to denote any of the sermons of the Buddha. Situated near the geographic center of the continental United States, Wichita, Kansas, is, for Allen Ginsberg, also the cultural heart of the country. Overwhelmingly white, Christian, and conservative, Wichita is the quintessential expression of mainstream America, the metaphoric axis of its violently whirling vortex. In terms of sound sense, Wichita (though an Indian name) evokes the word “witch,” thus conjuring images of sorcery, witchcraft, evil portents, and America’s Puritan heritage. So, taken as a whole, the title employs alliteration as it ironically juxtaposes Buddhism and Christianity, order and chaos, prayer and violence, and suggests an incantation or sermon meant to admonish, and possibly even exorcise, America.
Written in the first person, the poem describes a 250-mile bus ride (south on Route 77) from Lincoln, Nebraska, to Wichita, Kansas, on a bleak Sunday afternoon in midwinter. (Indeed, the route from Lincoln to Wichita traces a kind of sutra—a thread or connective cord—between the two cities.) In terms of narrative strategy, the poet...
(The entire section is 557 words.)