Thursday, May 26, 2005

She sweeps with many-colored brooms

She had tried society and the world, and found them lacking. She was not an invalid, and she lived in seclusion from no love-disappointment. Her life was the normal blossoming of a nature introspective to a high degree, whose best thought could not exist in pretence.

Storm, wind, the wild March sky, sunsets and dawns; the birds and bees, butterflies and flowers of her garden, with a few trusted human friends, were sufficient companionship. The coming of the first robin was a jubilee beyond crowning of monarch or birthday of pope; the first red leaf hurrying through "the altered air," an epoch. Immortality was close about her; and while never morbid or melancholy, she lived in its presence.

Mabel Loomis Tood.
Amhesrt, Massachusetts,
August, 1891.

    SHE sweeps with many-colored Brooms--
    And leaves the Shreds behind--
    Oh Housewife in the Evening West--
    Come back, and dust the Pond!

    You dropped a Purple Ravelling in--
    You dropped an Amber thread--
    And now you've littered all the east
    With Duds of Emerald!

    And still she plies her spotted Brooms,
    And still the Aprons fly,
    Till Brooms fade softly into stars--
    And then I come away--
    Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

After her death, and against her dying wishes, Emily Dickinson's poems were made available to the public by her sister Lavinia along with the help of a friend and neighbor, Mabel Loomis Todd, and the clergyman Thomas Wentworth Higginson with whom Emily had corresponded for 20 years. It was Higginson to whom she petitioned for commentary about her work and following a vacuous and condescending reply from him she kept her work to herself.

Of nearly eighteen hundred poems, only seven were in print during her lifetime. Six collections were published after her death. One the first examples still in existence is embroidered on a sampler made sometime during her mid-teens. Apart from a small group of love poems, which have been the source of many theories about her innermost feelings, Dickinson's main subject was the self and its ultimate destiny. Her style is matchless - unbalanced, broken, hesitant; she surveyed what was before her eye with images of surprising imagination and an ease of weighty states of despair, awe and longing. Many were written during the Age of Expansion:

    This was during the first half-century after the Civil War to the First World War which was approximately 1865-1915. American writers progressively moved from romanticism to realism (Perkins 870). (It was) a much more realistic interpretation of humanity and its destiny (Perkins 870). This new approach addressed a larger and more general audience than the writings of the Romantic era (Perkins 870). Although Dickinson is considered a writer from the Age of Expansion, her style of writing combined elements from the Romantic and Realism era.

Dickinson regularly identified nature with heaven, the result of her unique relationship with God and the universe. By regarding nature as almost sacred she venerated nature throughout her poetry depicting the scenes from an artistic point of view. Visibly fixated with the minute details of nature she paid close attention to things such as hills, flies, bumblebees, and eclipses. From these small things, Dickinson brought into being manifestations of the universal and an awareness of the harmony that binds all things together.

She sweeps with many colored brooms appears to have been composed sometime between 1858 and 1861 and published in the early 1920's in a collection titled Complete Poems. The tiny facets and particulars that caught her eye are semblances of brief dramas in reality. Like an infinitesimal micro-chasm each poem testifies to Dickinson's life as a recluse. Using everything from the images, the precise words she picks for impact composes a moving picture. Dickinson's created dramas were not stagnant and only somebody with original creativity and the observational powers like Emily Dickinson could glimpse a sunset as something so distinctive and refreshing.

Her mood is playful as she compares the sunset to a woman tidying her house. High-spirited and ingenious fun beams through the common thread of how the whole of humanity has observed heaven's many sunsets. The setting sun radiates different hues in the sky coloring the clouds and countryside. Duds in this sense means clothing and themes of domestic life and housewifery are displayed in jest, nature is a show to which she has gained admission. The poet moves the sun across the sky as it descends in the west, looks back and paints images as each physical change occurs.

Dickinson saw friendship, irony, and amusement in the world of trees, birds, and grassy meadows. She sweeps with many colors is a brilliant example of Dickinson's communion with nature. By regarding the words she crafted her poetry with as living entities that could have being, growth, and immortality she gave rise to a new idea that a word arrives from the experience behind it that takes precedence.

Able to stand out as a bright woman in an unsteady and chauvinist time in American history Dickinson addressed three main themes through her figurative language: death, love, and nature. Bedridden for two years before her death from Bright's disease, she requested that her manuscripts be destroyed, but confronted with over seventeen hundred poems her sister couldn't bring herself to burn them. Mabel Loomis Todd and Higginson abridged them several years later in three volumes during the 1890s.

Note from public domain source: "(These) poems... have been corrected to agree with reproductions of Dickinson's original Fascicles. In those cases the spelling, capitalization, wording, and of course punctuation are accurately hers, and not the 'improvements' of later publishers."


Emily Dickinson
Accessed Mar 17 2003

Higginson, T.L. and Loomis, Mabel, Poems by Emily Dickinson Second Series, 1892.

Public domain text taken from The Poets' Corner
Accessed Mar 17 2003

Accessed Mar 17 2003

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

A Supermarket in California

     What thoughts I have of you tonight, Walt Whit-
man, for I walked down the sidestreets under the trees
with a headache self-conscious looking at the full moon.
In my hungry fatigue, and shopping for images,
I went into the neon fruit supermarket, dreaming of
your enumerations!
What peaches and what penumbras! Whole fam-
ilies shopping at night! Aisles full of husbands! Wives
in the avocados, babies in the tomatoes!--and you,
García Lorca, what were you doing down by the

I saw you, Walt Whitman, childless, lonely old
grubber, poking among the meats in the refrigerator
and eyeing the grocery boys.
I heard you asking questions of each: Who killed
the pork chops? What price bananas? Are you my

Where are we going, Walt Whitman? The doors
close in an hour. Which way does your beard point
(I touch your book and dream of our odyssey in the
supermarket and feel absurd.)
Will we walk all night through solitary streets?
The trees add shade to shade, lights out in the houses,
we'll both be lonely.
Will we stroll dreaming of the lost America of love
past blue automobiles in driveways, home to our silent
Ah, dear father, graybeard, lonely old courage-
teacher, what America did you have when Charon quit
poling his ferry and you got out on a smoking bank
and stood watching the boat disappear on the black
waters of Lethe?

Berkeley 1955

-- Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997)

    "Why do people keep on complimenting 'Supermarket in California?' I HATE THAT POEM! It's probably only anthologized a lot because it's short."

    Allen Ginsberg

Can't you just hear that Jersey accent? Born in Paterson in 1926 to a school teacher father and a mother who had immigrated from Russia, Allen Ginsberg was the spokesman for the Beat Generation of the 1950's.

At one web site a person wonders:

    I understood this man, Allen Ginsberg is a homosexual. I read in the footnotes that it said Walt Whitman is someone Allen Ginsberg measures himself against, so I could understand why he refers to him or writes as if he's speaking to Whitman. I don't understand why a "supermarket in California"? Or what he is referring to when he mentions "Aisles full of husbands, wives in the avocados, and babies in the tomatoes? What is he saying or what does he mean? Is this a way to keep his ways a secret in the dark?
    To wit the reply was,
    It's a Ginsberg poem. get over it.

Another misunderstanding souls relates:

    .....this came from a very sick mind.
I couldn't disagree more, it's telling and quite sophisticated. A Supermarket in California captures the rhythms of action and speech in a spreading use of complex forms, boldly decorated with acres of words and visions of Whitman, "poking among the meats in the refrigerator and eyeing the grocery boys.." The imagery juxtaposes the past with present.

Written in the American poetic tradition, with Walt Whitman and William Carlos Williams as major influences. His poetry possess an improvised quality in its informality, discursive and repetitiveness. It conveys immediacy and honesty.

Ginsberg had written "Supermarket in California" in a grocery store on College Avenue in Berkeley, after reading Garcia Lorca's Ode to Walt Whitman. 'Supermarket in California' is a crafted criticism of literary figures as ode; addressed by poet, to those who cannot, or will not, answer. The narrator begins by creating a postmodern holy soul in a Blakean-like Preface to Milton ' from mental fight,' longing for the return of Whitman. Carl Sandburg's canonical Hog Butcher for the World echoes in Whitman's empty questions:Who killed the pork chops? What price bananas? Are you my Angel? And the question posed in the last refrain,

    Ah, dear father, graybeard, lonely old courage-teacher, what America did you have when Charon quit poling his ferry and got out on a smoking bank and stood watching the boat disappear on the black waters of Lethe?
easily calls to mind Whitman's:
    O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done;
    The ship has weather'd every rack, the prize we sought is won;
Charon is to Ginsberg, as Whitman is to Erebus who ferries the mythological Greek souls of the dead over a river. However, the river is not the Styx but in its place, is Hades whose waters cause drinkers to forget their past. One scholar explains what motivated Ginsberg:
    Starting from William Carlos Williams' idea of a new American idiom and measure, then reaching back to Whitman, Ginsberg arrived at what he calls his 'romantic inspiration -- Hebraic-Melvillian bardic breath'. What this means ... is the freedom to be exuberant and incantatory, to catalogue at will, and to employ free association of ideas in the context of sweeping religious utterance. Ultimately, Ginsberg is the natural heir to Whitman, in his further exploration of Whitman's long line, and in his preoccupation with transcending the ego by containing, or partaking of, all experience, in a kind of osmosis of the imagination.

    (Ginsberg) wanted to create a poetry that would not be literary, but would make full use of everything in our daily lives. "When you approach the Muse, talk as frankly as you would with yourself or your friends".

    -- 20th Century Poetry and Poetics, ed. Gary Geddes

Simply Berkeley, 1955 is the only date of origin I can discover. It may be the composition date since there is copyright date of 1956 in City Lights Books. Here is a an excerpt from a letter he wrote to William Carlos Williams, in Rutherford, New Jersey that seems to verify the approximate date :
    December 9, 1955

    Dear Dr. Williams:

    I enclose finally some of my recent work.

    Am reading Whitman through, note enclosed poem on same, saw your essay a few days ago, you do not go far enough, look what I have done with the long line. In some of these poems it seems to answer your demand for a relatively absolute line with a fixed base, whatever it is (I am writing this in a hurry finally to get it off, have delayed for too long) -- all held within the elastic of the breath, though of varying lengths. The key is in Jazz choruses to some extent; also to reliance on spontaneity & expressiveness which long line encourages; also to attention to interior unchecked logical mental stream. With a long line comes a return (to) expressive human feeling, it's generally lacking in poetry now, which is inhuman. The release of emotion is one with rhythmical buildup of long line. The most interesting experiment here is perhaps the sort of bachlike fuge built up in part III of the poem called Howl.

    This is not all I have done recently, there is one other piece which is nakeder than the rest and passed into prose. I'll send that on if you're interested -- also I have a whole book building up since 1951 when you last saw my work. I wish you would look at it but have not sent it on with these, is there enough time?

    Enclosed poems are all from the last few months.

    I hope these answer somewhat what you were looking for.

    As ever,


    No time to write a weirder letter.

The "note enclosed" he refers to is of course, 'Supermarket in California.' The additional poems sent to Williams were In the Baggage Room at Greyhound, and probably Sunflower Sutra. The one described as "one other piece which is nakeder than the rest and passed into prose" is most likely Transcription of Organ Music.

There's a supermarket just like it down the street, only instead of a Californian supermarket shelf and Ginsberg, Whitman, and Lorca walking by neon fruit where they talked; all three are dead forty years and now cool themselves by Lethe's breeze.

There is a woman in the cold yellow glare of the deli case rehearsing words; it's in different languages, different locations and with different moods, adding different layers of dynamics between the produce landscapes. How can people live with these artificial products? Dreaming of the lost America of love past, in the seamy underbelly of consumption, a vain attempt to interpret the numbing fount of consumerism.

Shopping is not usually likened to that of a nice verse of poetry. Uninspiring and charmless clusters, supermarkets tend to offer the same; shopping as sport. Fueling the deterioration of meaningful contact between people. The days of casual, yet personal relationships between the shopper and their local storekeepers have come and gone. One has to face the fact, for it is a fact, that there is no arm to cling to, but that we go alone, and that our relation is to the world of reality of walking home, past blue automobiles in driveways to a silent cul de sac.


The Beat Begins: America in the 1950s
Accessed Apr 07 2002.

Poetry: A Supermarket in California
Accessed Apr 07 2002.

The Wondering Minstrels: A Supermarket in California
Apr 07 2002.