America – Allen Ginsberg – early drafts

Many have heard the timeless Musical rendition of Allen Ginsberg’s poem America – which features some great lines such as:

America when will you be angelic?
When will you take off your clothes?
When will you look at yourself through the grave?
America why are your libraries full of tears?
I’m sick of your insane demands.
When can I go into the supermarket and buy what I need with my good looks?
America after all it is you and I who are perfect not the next world.

It continues…

America stop pushing I know what I’m doing.
America I still haven’t told you what you did to Uncle Max after he came over
from Russia.
I’m addressing you.
Are you going to let our emotional life be run by Time Magazine?
I’m obsessed by Time Magazine.
I read it every week.
Its cover stares at me every time I slink past the corner candystore.
I read it in the basement of the Berkeley Public Library.
It’s always telling me about responsibility. Businessmen are serious. Movie
producers are serious. Everybody’s serious but me.
It occurs to me that I am America.

But YouTube also features Allen Ginsberg reading an early draft of this poem of a crowd.

Notice how much longer, less focused, and generally less evocative this draft is. I found it useful to compare. It is a relief to realize that even a great poem began with twice as much crap as it ended up with. You can hear where lines were dropped, other ones shortened. Maybe it will give me the gumption to do likewise with my own writing. Maybe, I’ll take one of my novel manuscripts and try to snip it away until a novella remains.

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