“A Supermarket in California” and “Constantly Risking Absurdity”
Allen Ginsberg’s poem “A Supermarket in California” and Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s poem “Constantly Risking Absurdity” describe the struggle within to find beauty and self worth. Where Allen Ginsberg is lost in the market, desperately trying to find inspiration from Walt Whitman, Lawrence Ferlinghetti portrays the image of the poet frantically trying to balance on a high wire, risking not only absurdity, but also death. Both of these poems deal with their poet’s struggle to find meaning and their fears of failure. Where Ginsberg fears he will never find Whitman’s dream, Ferlinghetti fears falling off the high wire and being submitted to absurdity and death.
In the beginning of Allen Ginsberg “A Supermarket in California”, Ginsberg comes to the supermarket, having a headache and being fatigued. This illustrates his physical and psychological exhaustion. Searching for inspiration or something that will clinch his thrust, it appears to him in the form of his mentor and hero, Walt Whitman. Ginsberg describes him as a sad lonely old man—an image displaying Whitman’s style of poetry in modern America, lost within a distorted view of what Whitman dreamed America would become (Analysis of “A Supermarket in California”). Ginsberg, with the help of Walt Whitman, is trying to find his way home, just like Odysseus’ odyssey for Ithaca. Ginsberg’s home is an openly tolerant society with spiritual orientation to the world. “Where are we going, Walt Whitman? The doors close in an hour. Which way does your beard point tonight?” In these lines, Ginsberg is turning toward Whitman for guidance, only to find that Whitman himself is incoherent to his surroundings. He is seen as the old ways, obsolete to an artificial mass produced America. Ginsberg is left, homeless and in despair. Readers last see Walt Whitman on a smoky bank, staring back at his dream of America across Lethe (the river of forgetting), a forgotten dream in modern society which Ginsberg is frantically trying to discover (Ginsberg).
To clarify Ginsberg’s struggle, one must first understand Walt Whitman and his relationship to Ginsberg. Whitman viewed America as open, democratic, tolerant, accepting, ever-questioning, and grand in scale (Miller). Many of Walt Whitman’s poems have outdoor settings that symbolize his vision of a free open-minded America. Ginsberg decides to portray an opposite setting than Whitman’s poems in order to show how Whitman’s dream is not present in today’s society. A society, as Tyrus Miller claims, is “an era of anti-Communist witch hunts, preprocessed food, television advertising, and nuclear bombs.” Ginsberg is inspired by Walt Whitman’s dream of a diverse society. Although he is inspired, Ginsberg clearly lacks the confidence in himself and modern America to achieve this dream. He has many fears and displays them in numerous ways. The supermarket...