Interpretation and Analysis of The Poem “A Supermarket in California”

Interpretation and Analysis of The Poem “A Supermarket in California”

“A Supermarket in California” is a poem by Allen Ginsberg, an American poet.  It was first published in Howl and Other Poems. The narrator, Allen Ginsberg has an imagination of going to a Californian supermarket. At this supermarket he finds his idol Walt Whitman shopping and he talks directly to him. The poem is majorly a critique of postwar America but with a focus on consumerist aspects of the American society. Indeed the word choice, voice, word order, imagery, sound, figures of speech, and form or symbol work together to enhance the effectiveness of the art of poetry and delivery of the intended message.


The poem begins with the poet imagining a visit to a supermarket in California. He sets up the poem’s scene whereby he describes walking down the street having thoughts of Walt Whitman. For the poet, the setting is of utmost importance since it helps in showing his feelings of being torn apart between two different worlds as symbolized by the difference between the urbanized area of Berkeley and the natural beauty of the moon and the trees. This aspect can be taken to symbolize how his idol, Walt Whitman had also sought identity in nature. Symbolism is also used throughout the poem, especially when Walt Whitman makes evocative suggestions to some of the boys in the supermarket as perceived by the poet. This might be symbolic of the sexual orientation of both the poet and his idol, Walt Whitman who were both gays.

Ginsberg utilizes apostrophe; a device used when a poet or a narrator speaks to a person who does not actually exist. In the first stanza, the poet speaks to Walt Whitman had already been dead for decades by the time the poem was written. Ginsberg he tells Whitman that he entered a supermarket, not to shop for food and groceries but rather for images. He views the supermarket as a “neon fruit supermarket,” hence eliciting images of bright lights to the reader. The poet also talks to another dead poet, Garcia Lorca, a Spanish poet who was executed during the Spanish civil war. The poem assumes that the reader has an ample knowledge on history and hence doesn’t introduce who Walt Whitman and Garcia Lorca were.  In the first stanza, it is noted that Ginsberg uses a lot of punctuation marks perhaps to convey the hustle and bustle happening inside the supermarket. The use of numerous punctuation marks also creates an air of excitement which gives into sadness as the reader progresses to the second and the third stanzas.

The poem is written in free verse, like the way Walt Whitman wrote his. Moreover, it is characterized by the apostrophe to Walt Whitman, very long lines and the questions that form the beginning of majority of the lines. The poem neither rhyme nor has a regular meter, but it still has a catchy effect on the reader. The long lazy lines create the effect of a wandering thinker. Furthermore, it starts with a jubilant note as the poet points out various things that can be found at the supermarket. However, the poem takes on a sadder and a slower tone after the first few lines. The poem encompasses a lot of questions which are not answered and hence helps in creating a sad mood. In essence, being able to read one of the poem’s lines without catching a breath is an act of endurance.