6: Poem excerpts, Allen Ginsberg's “America,” 1956.
Allen Ginsberg was born in 1926 in New Jersey to Jewish parents. He was one of the central figures of the Beat Generation, a countercultural literary movement that included Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs. Ginsberg wrote "America" in 1956, and it was published in his collection Howl and Other Poems later that year. You can listen to Ginsberg read "America" to an audience here. Note that he adds lines in his performance that don't exist in the printed version of the poem.
Suggested Activity: Read the entire poem here, and then focus in on the excerpts. Discuss:
- Why do you think the poet is speaking to America, rather than about America? Is he speaking to the country, the people, the government?
- What do you think Ginsberg means by “I am America”?
- How do these lines relate to Death of a Salesman?
- How do Ginsberg and Miller use different forms (poetry and drama, respectively) to comment on American society?
Creative Writing: If you could say anything to America, what would you say? Write a poem addressing America directly. Feel free to criticize, praise, or converse with America, and to ask America questions.
Source: Three excerpts - sixteen lines - from "AMERICA" FROM COLLECTED POEMS 1947-1980 by ALLEN GINSBERG. Copyright (c) 1956, 1959 by Allen Ginsberg. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.