Read More/Blog More Poetry, March: Allen Ginsberg

read more/blog more poetryWelcome to the March installment of the Read More/Blog More Poetry event hosted by Regular Rumination! As I’ve said before, I don’t know much about poetry and even find it a little intimidating, but I am using this event as a challenge to broaden my literary horizons and learn more about this art form!

In the last few days, I’ve actually had a few interesting conversations about poetry, stemming from the Buffalo Small Press Book Fair I attended on Saturday. When I confessed to a poetry publisher that I have trouble reading poetry because I sometimes don’t understand what the poet is talking about, he encouraged me to focus more on the words and how they make me feel than analyzing them, assuring me that I don’t have to “understand” a poem to enjoy it; what matters more is my emotional reaction. I wrote about this in my post about the BSPBF and received some really really helpful feedback from a few readers. You can read the article and comments here.

I chose to read Howl and Other Poems by Allen Ginsberg for this month’s Read More/Blog More Poetry post, and I tried to put my new perspective into practice while reading it. I think I need to spend more time with “Howl” before I can say anything about it; my one reading of the three-part poem left me with scattered impressions, and I would really like to read it a few more times to let it sink in a bit more.

However, I read the other poems in the book, as well, and really liked “Sunflower Sutra” in particular. The poem describes sitting with Jack Kerouac in a train yard in San Francisco. He observes the grime and desolation surrounding him — but look! a sunflower! Seeing his first sunflower, Ginsberg is in awe of the flower despite its being “crackly bleak and dusty.” The battered state of the flower — dusty and dead and growing among sawdust, cigar butts, and other junk cast off by a careless society — is rather sad. This flower, a beautiful but fragile force of nature, has been nearly destroyed by a society that simply creates waste. My favorite part of the poem, which sums up the piece for me, says:

“The grime was no man’s grime but death and human locomotives, all that dress of dust, that veil of darkened railroad skin, that smog of cheek, that eyelid of black mis’ry, that sooty hand or phallus or protuberance of artificial worse-than-dirt — industrial — modern — all that civilization spotting your crazy golden crown.”

I see this as a metaphor for the way civilization urges conformity. On the inside, there is this beautiful, vibrant, even royal flower, but a society that spews “the smut and smog and smoke of olden locomotives” covers this spectacular inner being with a layer of soot that makes it look the same as everything else surrounding it. The state of this sunflower, which belongs in a field of green where it can flourish, is really heartbreaking. Hey, this is poetry and I actually kind of get it! It makes me feel emotions — I’m not dead inside, hurray!

I also really liked the poem “Song,” especially for the lines,

“for the burden of life
is love,
but we carry the weight
and so must rest
in the arms of love
at last,
must rest in the arms
of love”

It’s such a beautiful thought, it gives me the chills a little bit. To think that love wearies us with its weight but also gives us arms to rest in seems so wonderful and… right. I want to just carry this poem around inside me for a little while.

That about sums up my experiences with poetry this month. I’m looking forward to diving into Dickinson in April. I’ve been sporadically reading a few of poems from Barnes & Nobles’ Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson and loving them, and I plan to read them more consistently next month.

Have you read any good poetry recently?


4 thoughts on “Read More/Blog More Poetry, March: Allen Ginsberg

  1. Awesome, and they are some nice bits of poetry you’ve shown, too. It’s good to see you’re starting to enjoy poetry now – I think once you do start to enjoy it there’s no going back.
    I must confess I haven’t read much poetry lately, which is a bit bad of me, but in April, on top of the bazillion other writing challenges I am taking on, I have decided to have a go at Poetry Writing Month, in which I essentially will write a poem every day for the whole month. So I will need to get out my poetry books and start reading some again I think, to help prepare me. I haven’t written poetry at that kind of speed for a couple of years now, so it should be challenging and fun. 🙂

  2. ok, I cannot tell you how happy this post made me…. Ginsberg is one of my favorite poets and the Beats Movement is very close to my heart… I live in Calcutta where he spent a large part of his life as a poet… this got me all lumpy-throated and excited… am going to dig out his books again!

    • I’m glad you liked it! Are there certain places or sites in Calcutta with special Ginsberg history that you can visit? I went to San Francisco last summer and got to visit City Lights Bookstore, which was central to the Beat movement. It was heaven!

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