Study Guide

America Sound Check

By Allen Ginsberg

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Sound Check

Odds are that you've encountered a ranting individual, more than likely homeless, having an animated conversation with the air. In a lot of ways, this poem sounds like one man shouting on a street corner at a world that crosses the street when it sees him at the end of the block.

But what if you overcame that fear, and actually listened to what that person was saying? Even better, what if what that person was saying actually made a kind of sense, even if you didn't agree with it? Then you'd be closer to the experience of "America."

Allen Ginsberg was all about using the human breath, which is the vehicle for our speech, as the true measuring stick for a line. As a result, his work copies the patterns and rhythms of oral speech, not formal writing. That's why we get lines like "I don't feel good don't bother me" (6) and "Burroughs is in Tangiers I don't think he'll come back it's sinister" (20). With the periods removed, the pacing of these lines is sped up in a way that more resembles how these words would sound if spoken. In this case, the lines are squished together to add to the sense of anxiety that the speaker is feeling.

We also get an unmistakable energy, though, from the way Ginsberg uses sound, as in this line: "My national resources consist of two joints of marijuana millions of genitals an unpublishable private literature that goes 1400 miles an hour and twentyfivethousand mental institutions" (50). Talk about 1400 miles an hour. Ginsberg's lines move at the speed of sound, and we can't help but hear the energy in the voice that propels them.

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