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A Formalist Approach on A Supermarket in California by Allen Ginsberg Essay

Allen Ginsberg is considered to be one of the most influential poet of all time. He is regarded one of the most influential personalities of the beat generation during the 1950’s and 1960’s. His works became known for assaulting the prevalent conformity and materialism in the United States during his time. One of his best known work is the poem “A Supermarket in California. ” It would be very interesting to approach a work of Ginsberg according to formalist standards.

A formalist approach the work of Ginsberg would only reveal to us that he deliberately breaks-off from the conventions set by formalism. According to the criterion of formalism, an art work should only be judged according to the set conventions of its form. Poetry under formalism could also be considered as traditional poetry. In poetry, formalism would be more concerned with the form, rhyme scheme, and meter. Ginsberg’s “A Supermarket in California” violates many formalist standards.

It would be important to note that the poem is not metered and there is no apparent end rhymes. The poem is actually written in long lines following the free-verse form. Free-verse is generally considered as an open genre of poetry wherein structure, rhyme, and meter are not prioritized (Lawlor 208). Reading orally would reveal to us that the poem is intended to be read. The poem takes on a poetic yet conversational tone.

However, an interesting aspect about free-verse is that there is still some sense of control, something that holds the poem together, namely the metaphor. In this particular aspect of the poem, some sense of standard is found, therefore quasi-formalist. Ginsberg had used the supermarket as a metaphor for the society, wherein people are just produce “aisles full of husbands / wives in the avocados / babies in the tomatoes. ” Ginsberg had portrayed Walt Whitman and Garcia Lorca as shoppers in “the neon fruit supermarket.

It should be noted that Whitman and Lorca are regarded as two of the greatest poets in the history of literature. The metaphor is suggesting that the society is abundant with people whom poets could pick as an inspiration of their works. Another important aspect to be considered is that Allen Ginsberg is heavily associated with the beat generation, a group of writers dedicated to subvert the standards set by formalists (Lawlor 340).

Without a doubt, Ginsberg’s work on “A Supermarket in California” would not pass the standards of formalist poetry. However, we must set Ginsberg’s poem within its context. The audience Ginsberg had was not entertained by formalist poetry. That is why he had written the poem in a simple and conversational manner. This is one of most admirable aspects of Allen Ginsberg’s poetry. After all, it all boils down to priority. A poet should decide which is more important, the message of the poem or the form?


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