10/12/08

When will you be angelic?

Below are two recordings of Allen Ginsberg reading his poem "America." The first, recorded in 1956, features an early draft of the text and takes place in front of live audience. Commenting on his performance, The Poetry Archive writes, "Ginsberg's irrepressible humour delights his audience even as his poem enumerates reasons to despair with contemporary American culture."



Ginsberg trimmed the poem considerably between that reading and publication. A recording (below) of the final text is more somber and has greater resonance. Each line strikes with the deftness of a sharply thrown dart. Even a wild passage such as "My national resources consist of two joints of marijuana, millions of genitals, an unpublishable private literature that goes 1400 m.p.h., and twenty-five-thousand mental institutions" is delivered with precision.

Both versions include what I think is one of most touching closing lines in American poetry. The idea of the outcast who refuses to give up gets me every time.

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