America (poem)

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"America" is a poem by Allen Ginsberg, written in 1956. It appears in his collection Howl and Other Poems.

The poem is in the first person and reads much like a monologue. It is presented in a somewhat rambling, stream of consciousness format.

America is a largely political work, with much of the poem consisting of various accusations against the United States, its government, and its citizens. Ginsberg uses sarcasm to accuse America of attempting to divert responsibility for the Cold War ("America you don't want to go to war/ it's them bad Russians / Them Russians them Russians and them Chinamen. / And them Russians"), and makes numerous references to both leftist and anarchist political movements and figures (including Sacco and Vanzetti, the Scottsboro Boys and the Wobblies). Ginsberg's dissatisfaction, however, is tinged with optimism and hope, as exemplified by phrases like "When will you end the human war?" (as opposed to "why don't you...?"). The poem's ending is also highly optimistic, a promise to put his "queer shoulder to the wheel," although the original draft ended on a bleaker note: "Dark America! toward whom I close my eyes for prophecy, / and bend my speaking heart! / Betrayed! Betrayed!"[1]

America is also an intensely personal poem, making references to Ginsberg's use of marijuana and his homosexuality, as well as fellow Beat writer William S. Burroughs. There is considerable reference to the alienation Ginsberg felt as a result of the culture of the McCarthy era combined with the values implied in the burgeoning suburbia. The longest line in the poem is a sentimental description of a Communist meeting his mother took him to when he was a child, ending abruptly with the ironic pronouncement "Everybody must have been a spy."

Some of the words of "America" are used in the The Wonder Years album "Suburbia I've Given You All and Now I'm Nothing". The first song on that album begins with Ginsberg reading part of this poem.

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