I want to have lived through the 60s. Or even better — careful with your wishes — I want the 60s to have lived through me. I’ve always felt like a displaced flower-child; I love the music, I love the fashion (or lack thereof), I love the politics, the people in the streets. The coming Age of Aquarius. Marc Smith’s “hippy-dippy revolution.”
I finally went to San Francisco last summer and ate a burger at Red Robin. What the hell happened?
In the 60s, the times where a-changing, and Bob Dylan was spitting out so much hope it makes me cry. Now he’s doing Victoria Secret commercials; he used to care, but things have changed.
So what has changed, exactly? I could turn this into a long essay, but the answer is too obvious. First re-read Allen Ginsberg’s “America.” Then read, if you haven’t already, C.K. Williams’ “United States.”
Ginsberg’s America is angry, then sad, then funny (“[Russia] needs a Red Reader’s Digest. her wants our / auto plants in Siberia”); it’s nothing if not passionate. Despite what he says, you can’t avoid the sense that America does have a chinamen’s chance. “America when will you be angelic?” implies the possibility that it some day might be. What makes Ginsberg’s poem so powerful and lasting is its love for the country; America is a sick and silly child worth caring for.
Forty years later we have Williams, who spends half his time in France. The United States is a “rusting, decomposing hulk.” All that’s left is the memory of the monster it was, and “its pocking, / once pure paint.” Like Ginsberg, Williams enters his own poem, but here he’s just a ghost, as silent as he is sea-sick. All hope has been replaced by one of the most dreary final stanzas I’ve ever read:
“America’s mighty flagship” waits here,
to be auctioned, I suppose, stripped of anything
it might still have of worth, and towed away
and torched to pieces on a beach in Bangladesh.
Don’t get me wrong — I love C.K.; he’s merely reflecting the temper of the times, which is one of poetry’s great responsibilities. I just wish these were different times.
Man, I feel like I’m bad-mouthing some sap at his funeral.
Anyway, happy birthday to one of the must beautiful and influential documents in human history. And God bless that poet, Thomas Jefferson.