“Homework,” by the American poet Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997), was written on April 26, 1980 in Boulder, Colorado (as a note following the text of the poem reveals). The poem describes how the poem’s speaker would metaphorically cleanse many problems of the world in a metaphorical washing machine, as if they were merely pieces of dirty laundry. The poem is written in Ginsberg’s trademark style, with its long, rambling lines (reminiscent of the poetry of Walt Whitman) and its heavy emphasis on colloquial American diction (also reminiscent of Whitman’s phrasing). Because the poem displays a good deal of humor, its socio-political points seem less strident (and thus more likely to provoke real thought) than if the speaker came across as a hectoring propagandist.
The first line catches us by surprise. The first half of the line leads us to expect one kind of poem (merely domestic), while the line’s second half suddenly switches gears and implies an interest in foreign affairs. Then, just when we may assume that the poem will be an attack on the nation of Iran (one of the main enemies of the United States in the period immediately before this poem was written), the poem switches gears again as it shifts to the second line. That line shows that the speaker, far from being merely critical of Iran, is critical of the United States as well. Thus, by the time we have read less than eighteen words, we begin to suspect that the speaker’s criticism of nations (or at least of their flaws and/or their leaders) will be wide-ranging rather than narrow. The rest of the poem, of course, confirms this suspicion.
On the one hand the poem deals with serious social, economic, and political issues, such as the loss of jungle habitats in Africa due to the encroachment of humans (2), the pollution of major bodies of water (3), and many other forms of environmental degradation, often involving water. On the other hand, the tone of the work is rather whimsical, concerned as much with displaying the speaker’s imagination and inventiveness as with simply cataloging environmental horrors. However, while in some ways the poem seems designed to showcase the speaker’s wit, in other ways the speaker seems not to take himself too seriously. Paradoxically, the less seriously he seems to take himself, the more seriously we may actually listen to what he has to say.
In some cases the speaker links environmental damage to political or military abuses, as in the reference to “Agent Orange” in line 9. Agent Orange was a chemical sprayed by the U. S. military on the jungles of Vietnam during the War in Vietnam (1960s-70s). It was designed to make enemy soldiers visible by killing the lush vegetation in which they might otherwise hide. Even more obvious political criticism appears in line 10, in the...
(The entire section is 1152 words.)
In Allen Ginsberg’s Poetry Allen Ginsberg started his infamous life as a revolutionary and poet of the beat generation when he began attending Colombia University. While at Colombia Ginsberg met friend and mentor Jack Kerouac whom he would later join to form the School of Disembodied Poets. During his education at Colombia University Ginsberg started his highly political and opinionated poems, which would become his signature for the beat generation.
The poetry he produced would become the basis of protest and due to this and his strong political presence Ginsberg earned himself a spot on the FBI’s dangerous list. Ginsberg’s poems were that of a revolutionary and showed his dislikes of American Society and the Injustices throughout America. Ginsberg’s most recognized and an earliest poem was Howl and other poems written in 1956 (Ostriker 4). Howl being one of Ginsberg’s most infamous poems has been translated to the T. In Alicia Ostriker’s criticism of Howl she relates Ginsberg’s “Meloch” in part two of Howl to many of the evils that befall this nation today (5). Ostriker states, “Ginsberg’s mind forged Meloch likewise as oppressiveness of a modern industrial and military state, excluded from reason. Ginsberg’s Meloch is also the modern version of Mammon, the capitalism of unobtainable dollars… running money… electricity and banks. (7).” Howl records in veiled fashion, the humiliation and crippling of a population of immigrants to shores, which promised, hope and produced despair (3). In the poem Howl’s (1956) first lines, “ I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked dragging themselves through the Negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix. (Ginsberg, Howl)”
Ginsberg is speaking of the destruction that drugs have caused in American Society and America’s addiction to drugs. Ginsberg also describes the members of his community: Who distributed supercommunist pamphlets in Union Square and undressing while the sirens of Los Alomos wailed them down, and wailed down Wall, and the Staten Island Ferry also wailed, who broke down crying in white gymnasiums naked and trembling before the machinery of other skeletons, Who bit detectives in the neck and shrieked with delight in police cars for committing no crime but their own wild cooking pederasty and intoxication (Ginsberg, Howl) In Levi Asher’s review of Howl he describes these lines as Ginsberg’s fellow travelers, the crazy, lonely members of his community of misunderstood poet artists, unpublished novelists, psychotics, radicals, pranksters, sexual deviants, and junkies (Asher 1). Ginsberg’s more politically inspired poems include Hadda Be Playing on the JukeBox, America, and Industrial Waves. The Poem Hadda Be Playing on the Juke Box is bursting with politics, anger against the federal government, alliances America has, and the crimes against humanity it commits. Ginsberg attacks the FBI and its head of operation J Edgar Hoover by describing the corruption within the FBI and its collaboration with the Mafia in the following lines: It had to be FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover and Frank Costello syndicate mouthpiece meeting in Central Park, New York weekends reported Time
Magazine………………………………………… It had to be the FBI and organized crime working together In cahoots against the commies (Ginsberg, HBPOTJB.) These lines show Ginsberg awareness of the mob and the FBI’ s friendly terms. Ginsberg is relating to the mobs black mail of Hoover and Hoover’s cross-dressing and homosexuality. Ginsberg’s anger over the widespread corruption in America is seen in the following lines: It had to be the CIA and the Mafia and the Mafia and the FBI together They were bigger than Nixon And they were bigger than war……………………………………… It had to be Central Intelligence, the family, allofthis, the agency Mafia It had to be organized crime One big set of gangs working together in cahoots Hit-men Murders everywhere (Ginsberg, HBPOTJB) Ginsberg shows his dislikes towards the capitalist economy and relates his dislikes and the injustices in America to capitalism in these words. Multinational Capitalists Strong-armed squads Private Detective Agencies for the rich And their armies and navies and their air force bombing planes It had to be capitalism the vortex of this rage This competition man to man (Ginsberg, HBPOTJB) Critic Helen Vendler says these lines summed up the poem’s rage towards capitalism and capitalism’s imperialistic shadow that lurks behind it (Vendler 3).
These last lines of the poem finish: Brute force and full money Brute force, world-wide, and full of money Brute force, world-wide, and full of money Brute force, world-wide, and full of money It had to be rich and it had to be powerful (Ginsberg, HBPOTJB) In Helen Vendler’s criticism of the poem she stated that this was Ginsberg’s view of America at the time, brutal, imperialistic, and full of itself and money (Vendler 6). In Ginsberg’s politically inspired poem America Ginsberg struggles with his dislikes, grievances, and hopes of and for America. In Ginsberg’s America (1956) he discusses some of his grievances: America when will we end the human war? Go fuck yourself with your atom bomb… America why are your libraries full of tears? I am sick of your insane demands… America I used to be a Communist when I was a kid and I’m not sorry America Free Tom Mooney America save the Spanish Loyalists America Saccco & Vanzetti must not die America I am the Scottsboro boys (Ginsberg, America) Ginsberg questions some America’s past and present policies dealing with Communist countries in the following lines: America you don’t really want to go to war America it’s them bad Russians and them Chinamen And them Russians The Russia wants to eat us alive The Russia’s power mad She wants to take our cars from out our garages Her wants to grab Chicago Her needs a Red Reader’s Digest her wants our auto plants in Siberia Him big bureaucracy running our filling stations That no good. Ugh. Him makes Indians learn read. Him need big black niggers. Hah. Her make us all work sixteen hours a day.
Help America this is quite serious America this is the impression I get from looking in the television set America is this correct? (Ginsberg, America) Throughout these long stanzas Ginsberg is reflecting on America’s foolish reactions to Communist Russia referred to as her and America as him. Ginsberg is comparing the two nations and the crimes they commit against their people. In reality during the time the poem was written America was starting the Cold War with Russia. The two nations dislike each other and constantly refer to the treatment of the other country’s people as brute. Though when you look at Ginsberg’s poem and the policies he refers to the reader can see that both nations have their ills. Ginsberg was devoting much of his time to challenging government issues of privacy and personal freedom. Including sexual preference-and arousing his fellow writers to campaign for freedom of expression while earning himself a spot on the FBI’s potentially dangerous and subversive list (Mitgang 1). When Ginsberg was commenting on the FBI’s activities in the literary political arena, Ginsberg said, “Why did the FBI lay off the Mafia and instead bust the alternative media, scapegoating Leroi Jones, ganging up on Jane Fonda, Tom Hayden, Martin Luther King, Jr., antiwar hero David Dellinger, even putting me on a ‘Dangerous Subversive’ Internal Security list in 1965 – the same year I was kicked out of Havana and Prague for talking and chanting to the Communist police? ‘The fox condemns the trap, not himself,’ as Blake wrote in Proverbs in Hell (Mitgang 1).” During the first term of the Reagan administration, a list of eighty for people deemed “unsuitable” as government paid speakers abroad was prepared by the United States Information Agency. Among the names was Allen Ginsberg, poet (Mitgang 1). In one of Ginsberg’s more recent poems, Industrial Waves, Ginsberg is unstoppable when it comes to defying the authorities with verse that outrages: “Free computerized National Police! /Everybody got identity cards? At ease! / Freedom for Big Business to eat up the sea/ Freedom for Exxon to examine your pee! (Ginsberg, Industrial Waves)”
Once again Ginsberg is questioning the Federal Government and their secret police with their black list making a note of any in opposition. He also cites the mass Business control in the capitalist economy the pull in congress that a business like Exxon has over the common people. Through Ginsberg’s poems and lectures he gained much attention and followers of the beat generation. Ginsberg’s poems were the chants of the disembodied poets and rebellious students around the country. He started the beat generation with his friends and took America’s youth and the public’s attention towards the problems that befall the nation in the past and in the present. “Allen Ginsberg’s poetry was angry and spoke in the language of the streets about sex, drugs, radical politics, injustice and all the things that many considered forbidden and outrageous during the 1950’s and still today (name-dropping).”
Alicia Ostriker. “Allen Ginsberg: ‘Howl Revisited: The Poet as Jew’” in the American Poetry Review, Volume 4, 1997, pp.27-31. Gale Database: Contemporary Literary Criticism. Online. Galenet. 1 March 1999 Asher, Levi. “Criticism of Howl”. 1 October 1995. Online http://www.charm.net/brooklyn/Poems/Howl.html%20Ginsberg, Allen. “America.” Howl and other Poems. SanFransisco: City Light Books, 1959. Ginsberg, Allen. Howl and other Poems. SanFransisco: City Light Books, 1959. Ginsberg, Allen. “Industrial Waves.” White Shroud. New York: Harper & Row, 1986. Helen Vendler. “Allen Ginsberg: In Soul Says: On Recent Poetry. New York: Belknap Press, 1995, pp. 9-15. Gale Database: Contemporary Literary Criticism. Online. Galenet. 1 March 1999 Mitgang, Herbert. “Exposing the secret war on America’s greatest authors.” 1988. Online http://www.english.upenn.edu/afilreis/50s/ginsberg-fbi.html