by Allen Ginsberg
Drugs and Alcohol
Just say no, kids. Really. Pay no attention to the glassy-eyed poet in the corner. You know, the one who's been staring at his closet for the past week. "America" is a great example of how, for Ginsberg and his buddies, getting out of one's sober mind was an important part of escaping the crushing reality of conformist American society. Really, without the Beats there would have been no Woodstock. Nobody would have been able to "turn on" and "drop out," if they hadn't first tuned in to the Beats, who were purposefully leaving their conscious reality through drugs—both as a means of escape and as a way to achieve an artistic distance that allowed them to critique their world. Still, not recommended.
- Lines 29-30: The speaker would like us to know: "I smoke marijuana every chance I get." When he does, he likes to "sit in my house for days on end and stare at the roses in the closet." Gee…thanks for the update. It's important to remember, though, that this was a pretty brazen declaration back in the 1950s when the poem was written, long before Snoop Dogg had his own reality TV show. Declaring oneself a drug user was to wear the stamp of the dropout non-conformist. The speaker is a fish (Phish?) who is swimming—we guess, pretty slowly—upstream.
- Line 31: So, what else does the speaker get up to in his spare time? "When I go to Chinatown I get drunk and never get laid." Ohhhkay…good times, there? Still, we think this is just another example of the speaker telling us about his purposeful decision not to do as the rest of polite American society does. How would we feel about him if he said, "When I go to Chinatown, I pose for a photo next to a dragon statue and then order a nice meal"?
- Line 50: The speaker, in a bit of an identity crisis, lets us know that his "national resources consist of two joints of marijuana." Riiight. It might help to remember that, in this section, the speaker is switching back and forth between his sense of himself as a person, and as part of larger collective called a "country." Still, what's key here is that the speaker sees his drugs as a resource, a possession that sustains and defines him.